blogLatest News from Ed Voters

Update on HB 530 & still no revenue to fund the PA budget

Thanks to the very significant efforts of education advocates who contacted lawmakers with concerns, HB 530 (the harmful charter school legislation) has not gone up for a final vote in the House (yet). We are continuing to monitor HB 530 and other school code legislation and will alert you if we learn that a vote is imminent on HB 530 or other school code legislation.

This is a tricky time in Harrisburg, when lawmakers may try to move controversial legislation as they finalize a budget and think no one is paying attention.  Please be ready to make a phone call or send an email if lawmakers move this bill. The House will be in session on Sunday night. Your actions make an enormous difference and hold lawmakers accountable for their votes!

We urge lawmakers finish the state budget without further delay. When they return in the fall they should begin working on new charter school reform legislation that addresses very real concerns of parents, students, teachers, administrators, and taxpayers throughout the Commonwealth, which include:

  • the quality of public education provided,
  • our obligation to serve all public school students, and
  • the necessity to provide adequate levels of resources so that all students in PA have the opportunity to receive a quality public education.

HB 530 has been a tremendous disappointment. After a year of work, the legislature created a bill that does not adequately address education quality or lay the foundation for quality public schools in every community in PA.

Cyber charters continue to perform poorly, but in HB 530, the PA legislature didn’t create a cyber charter quality task force or a commission to study student outcomes in cybers. Taxpayers need to understand more about how these public cyber schools are funded and how well they’re serving students. That would not happen under HB 530.

Further, HB 530 gives charter schools many new opportunities to expand without the permission of local school boards and the communities that pay the bills, but does not contain any language that would ensure that new charter schools would provide students with a quality education. In fact, HB 530 does not contain any consequences for poor-performing charters. Even charter schools that fare poorly on the separate, charter-only evaluation system created in the bill can receive a five-year renewal.

If lawmakers are going to reform PA’s charter school law, they need to get it right. Unfortunately, HB 530 simply does not get it right.

We have put forth  policy suggestions for fixing PA’s broken charter school law and urge the legislature to begin working on new legislation once the budget is finished.

State budget update–still no revenue.

In budget news, last week the PA House and Senate approved spending plans (but not enough revenue) for a budget that would provide the following increases for education funding:

  • $200 million for Basic Education Funding
  • $30 million for Pre-K programs
  • $20 million  for special education

Governor Wolf has said that he will sign this budget, but ONLY after the legislature approves the necessary revenues to pay for the budget. Lawmakers went home for the July 4th holiday and have not yet put forth a proposal to pay for the budget they passed–it is about $1.2 billion short. We expect they may be in over the weekend, as the deadline for Governor Wolf to sign, veto or allow the budget to become law is at midnight on Monday, July 11th.

Moody’s has taken notice of Harrisburg’s unwillingness to make the tough decisions necessary balance the budget (revenue increases or cuts in programs and services) and once again signaled a negative outlook for the Commonwealth that “reflects the likelihood that the Commonwealth’s credit challenges are likely to worsen in the near term absent political compromise,”  Another credit downgrade will mean higher borrowing costs, which already cost tens of millions of dollars each year.

While a $200 million increase in Basic Education Funding is a critical investment in our schools, this amount falls far short of what our schools need in order to ensure all public school students have the resources they need to be successful.  We will have more on this issue after PA enacts a final 2016-2017 budget.

Language from HB 530

For those of you you who are interested in the language of HB 530 or who may have received a response from a lawmaker who didn’t believe what is in this mammoth, 200+ page bill, please find excerpts from the bill below for your reference. Italicized sentences are our statements, the rest is directly from HB 530,  printer’s number 3696.

HB 530 would strip control from local communities that pay charter school tuition bills and allow for the unfettered expansion of charter schools without any fiscal or quality controls.

Section 1723-A, p. 83

(d)  Notwithstanding any other provision of this act, [a school district of the first class may, in its discretion, permit a charter school to operate its school at more than one location.] a charter school or regional charter school that does not have any limits on student enrollment or caps is permitted to operate its school at more than one location and may not be required to obtain permission to expand.

p. 88

(d)  (1)  Enrollment of students in a charter school [or cyber charter school] entity, or expansion of a charter school  entity into additional grade levels, shall not be subject to a cap or otherwise limited by any past or future action of a [board of school directors, a board of control established under Article XVII-B, a special board of control established under section 692 or any other governing authority] LOCAL BOARD OF SCHOOL DIRECTORS, unless agreed to by the charter school [or cyber charter school] ENTITY as part of a written charter pursuant to section 1720-A.

In addition, Section 1704-A. p. 58, establishes a Charter School Advisory Commission that that would consider recommending a statewide authorizer and strip local school boards of control over charter schools coming into their communities.

(A)  Consideration of establishing an independent State level board to authorize charter school entities and support charter school quality and accountability through performance monitoring and technical assistance.

HB would make charter schools even LESS accountable than they are now by creating a separate evaluation system for charter and cyber charter schools. School districts would ONLY be able to use these criteria when authorizing a new charter or assessing an existing charter. (School districts would not be able to develop additional, more thorough criteria for evaluation)

Section 1731.2-A.  Performance Matrix.–The following shall apply:

(1)  Within twenty-four (24) months of the effective date of this section, the State board shall develop a standard performance matrix to evaluate charter school entity performance and shall promulgate regulations pursuant to the act of June 25, 1982 (P.L.633, No.181), known as the “Regulatory Review Act,” to implement this section.

(5)  Neither the department nor any local board of school directors or other school district governing authority may develop a separate performance matrix for the evaluation of a charter school entity.

(6)  (i)  A local board of school directors or other school district governing authority shall utilize the standard performance matrix as a primary factor in evaluating renewal charter school and regional charter school applicants and in annual monitoring and evaluation of charter schools and regional charter schools.

HB 530 stacks the statewide Charter School Appeal Board in favor of charters by including two additional charter school members. (Underlined portions are the new additions/changes to the board).

Section 1721-A.  State Charter School Appeal Board.–(a)  The State Charter School Appeal Board shall consist of the Secretary of Education and [six (6)] the following members who shall be appointed by the Governor by and with the consent of a majority of all the members of the Senate. [Appointments by the Governor shall not occur prior to January 1, 1999.] The Governor shall select the chairman of the appeal board to serve at the pleasure of the Governor. The members shall include:

(1)  A parent of a school-aged child enrolled in a charter school entity.

(2)  A school board member.

(3)  A certified teacher actively employed in a public school.

(4)  A faculty member or administrative employe of an institution of higher education.

(5)  A member of the business community.

(6)  A member of the State Board of Education.

(7)  An administrator of a charter school entity.

(8)  A member of the board of trustees of a charter school entity.

(9)  A principal of a public school not operated under this article.