Charter legislation in the 2019-20 session
PSBA believes that the state must enact comprehensive reforms to address areas of charter school operations, accountability and funding. A variety of bills addressing charter school issues have been introduced in the Senate and House of Representatives.
House charter package
On June 12, 2019, the House amended and passed a four-bill package addressing various charter school issues. Two of the bills contain significant concerns; although PSBA was successful in obtaining some positive changes, concerns remain. Read PSBA’s June 14 Legislative report for details.
Charter applications/amendments, expansion without oversight: House Bill 357 (Rep. Topper, R-Bedford) revises the process used to apply to open a charter school, amend an existing written charter, and the admission and enrollment of students in a charter school.
Charter school expansion without oversight: House Bill 356 (Rep. Dowling, R-Fayette) as introduced gives charter schools the right of first refusal to purchase or lease school buildings “no longer in use” by a school district. It also allows a charter school to operate at more than one location so long as the charter school’s written charter does not limit enrollment.
Governance, ethics, dual enrollment: Other bills in the package are House Bill 355 (Rep. Reese, R-Westmoreland) concerning governance and ethics requirements and House Bill 358 (Rep. Marshall, R-Beaver) regarding dual enrollment issues.
Issues of concern with the House package:
Charter school expansion is permitted regardless of the quality of the educational program provided by the charter school. Granting underperforming charter schools unfettered expansion would be a disservice to students and taxpayers. Further, the resulting enrollment expansions would have a substantial impact on school district budgets, as well as a direct impact on transportation programs.
Critical issues regarding funding are not addressed, including: overpayments to charter schools for special education students; calculation of cyber charter tuition rates; the tuition reconciliation process, and other important funding issues. Without addressing any of these funding concerns, this package misses the mark on creating meaningful charter reform.
Cyber charter funding reform
PSBA supports Senate Bill 34 (Sen. Schwank (D-Berks) and House Bill 526 (Rep. Sonney (R- Erie), which would require parents to pay for their child’s education in a cyber charter school if the school district of residence offers its own full-time cyber education program. This legislation would save millions of dollars for some school districts that make tuition payments for their students to attend cyber charter schools that they never authorized.