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PA Senate passes charter school expansion bill, disregards needs of students and taxpayers

Susan Spicka, Executive Director of Education Voters of PA made the following statement about the PA Senate’s passage of HB 97:

It is very disappointing that 26 members of the PA Senate voted to disregard the very real needs of the students and taxpayers they were elected to represent.

At 10:00 on a Sunday night, with little discussion, 26 Republican senators voted for HB 97, a bill that is backed by the deep-pocketed charter school industry.

The Senate version of HB 97 strips out $27 million in immediate savings that school districts would have received as a result of changes in cyber charter school tuition payments

In addition, instead of improving what Auditor General Eugene DePasquale once called, “the worst charter school law in the nation,” HB 97 ensures that bad actors in the charter school sector will be able to continue to spend and waste taxpayer dollars without public oversight.

On Sunday, 32 members of the Senate rejected an amendment that would have made private charter school management organizations subject to PA’s Right to Know laws. PA lawmakers ensured that taxpayers would not be able to gain access to the financial records of these privately-operated, publicly-funded companies or learn how much they reap in profits off of taxpayer dollars that are meant to educate children.

These same members also voted to protect charter entities that commit fraud by rejecting an amendment to HB 97 that would have restored the statute that a charter school being convicted of fraud was grounds for nonrenewal or termination of a charter.

On top of this, HB 97 fails to fix many other flagrant flaws in the current law:

  • HB 97 does not fix the $100 million profit (and growing) that charters reap off students with disabilities each year from the broken special education funding system. There is no language requiring charters to spend special education funding on services for students with disabilities or requiring charters to equitably serve all students, including students with disabilities who require significant services.
  • HB 97 does not 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 strips local control from school districts and ties the hands of 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 enables the expansion of underperforming charter schools that fail to provide students with a quality education. HB 97 even allows schools that fail to meet academic benchmarks to be reauthorized for 5 years.

Charter schools are part of Pennsylvania’s educational landscape and many charter schools provide students with a quality education. Charter school reform should strive to increase quality options, improve Pennsylvania’s system of public education, guarantee that schools equitably serve all students, and ensure that taxpayer dollars are being used efficiently and effectively to educate children.

Unfortunately, HB 97 would not improve education quality for students or ensure that unscrupulous organizations and individuals in the charter school industry will be prevented from continuing to abuse this system at the expense of PA taxpayers and children.

Because the Senate enacted significant changes to the bill that was passed in the House earlier this year, this version of HB 97 must now go back to the PA House for consideration there.

We most strongly urge the PA House to abandon HB 97 and instead to support a bipartisan, bicameral Charter School Funding Advisory Commission that will address the real problems in PA’s charter law and improve PA’s system of public education.