We had hoped that the PA House would work toward charter reform that would protect taxpayers and students and improve PA’s system of public education.
Our hopes were misplaced.
On Tuesday this week, members of the House Education Committee passed HB 97 out of committee on a vote of 17 to 10. Before they voted, lawmakers were assured that HB 97 was a work in progress and would be amended to address many significant problems and deficiencies in the bill.
That didn’t happen.
During the House session on Wednesday, Republican leadership and most Republican lawmakers opposed nearly every substantial amendment that was introduced to fix HB 97.
- HB 97 does not address the $100 million profit (and growing) that charters reap off students with disabilities each year from the broken special education funding system.
- HB 97 does nothing to address the continued abysmal academic performance of the state’s cyber charter schools — none of which have met the minimum proficiency standard on the state’s school performance profile.
- HB 97 creates separate performance standards by which to evaluate charter/cyber charter schools and district schools, making a comparison of education quality between the two sectors impossible. Cyber charter performance won’t look as bad if cyber charters are compared only to other charter schools, many of which are also very low-performing.
- HB 97 strips local control from school boards. If HB 97 becomes law, local school boards would be prohibited from requesting any information from charter applicants beyond the information in a state-created application form; local school boards would be subjected to the whim of charter operators to amend their charter; and local school board decisions regarding charter applications and renewals would be at the mercy of the state’s Charter Appeal Board, which would be stacked with charter school supporters.
HB 97 improves ethics and transparency standards for charters and temporarily makes very small reductions in school district payments to cyber charters. In exchange for these modest modifications to the current law, legislators are handing charter lobbyists their wish list with a bow on top.
Making charters play by similar rules as other publicly funded entities should not earn the PA legislature high praise. These are necessary and important changes to the PA legislature’s broken law that should have been made years ago.