(10/2016) Pennsylvania’s charter school law was originally designed to help promote innovation and expand educational opportunities for students outside of the traditional public school setting. In the nearly 20 years since the law was enacted, many charter schools have met this challenge; others have fallen short. Improving the state’s approach to charter schools is a
critical step toward ensuring students across the state have access to a quality education.
Over the past several years, lawmakers have found difficulty in reaching an agreement on a comprehensive charter school reform bill due to the complex nature of the problem. Part of the difficulty in addressing this issue is the fact that no two charter schools are identical, and no two host school districts are completely alike. Each charter school and its authorizing
school district faces its own set of unique circumstances in terms of student population, demographics and funding.
Concerns have also been raised by those on both sides of the debate regarding the application and appeals process, the funding formula and payment methods, and how the effectiveness and efficiency of charter schools is measured. These disputes often lead to an adversarial relationship between the charter school and its host district, which detracts from the mission of both
institutions – to educate young people. Striking a balance between charter schools, public schools and taxpayers is critical to help create an environment in which all students can succeed.
One area of broad agreement is the need for greater accountability and transparency measures for charter schools. While the vast majority of these institutions operate in the best interests of students, we have seen isolated cases in which funds allocated to charter schools were mishandled or abused. State law requires school districts to meet stringent financial reporting
criteria in order to ensure tax dollars are being invested wisely and appropriately. It makes sense that charter schools should be required to adhere to stronger financial disclosure standards as well.
There is also an acknowledgment on both sides of the debate that performance matters. Charter schools that offer students a high-quality education deserve our support. Those who are failing our students only serve to unnecessarily take money away from young people in public schools. Across the nation, charter school performance is improving. However, data suggests that
charters are underperforming in Pennsylvania as a whole. Looking to the examples set in other states could be extremely helpful in maintaining and expanding options for students and ensuring taxpayers get the greatest return on investment.
It is my belief that charter schools can continue to play a significant role in helping to expand educational opportunities for children and meet certain educational needs that in some instances our public schools cannot. We need to find solutions that are fair to all parties: charter schools, school districts, taxpayers, and especially students. Working to find common
ground between all stakeholders will be my priority as we move forward.
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