Treat all public schools equally - charter school reform is key
Charter schools and traditional public schools both receive tax dollars and are considered public schools under Pennsylvania law. To ensure quality educational opportunities for all children, they should be treated equally under law. But they’re not.
For too many years, charter schools have been free to operate under rules less stringent than those required of traditional public schools. It’s led to the mismanagement of charters and the bungling of millions of taxpayer dollars by these publicly funded schools.
With investigations or problems at 37 out of 173 charter and cyber charter schools currently operating in Pennsylvania, reform is needed now.
House Democrats have introduced a package of bills designed to treat all Pennsylvania public schools – both traditional and charter – and their students equally and fairly under law.
H.B. 1198 would bring charter schools in line with school districts by imposing limits on the surpluses that charter schools may accumulate.
H.B. 1199 would end conflicts of interest in tax-funded payments for charter school leases.
H.B. 1200 would phase in a final recommendation of the Special Education Funding Commission to fix how we pay for high-cost special education students. Currently, charter and cyber schools essentially get penalized if they accept these high-cost kids. At the same time, in the 2012-13 school year, charter schools received nearly 200 million dollars more than necessary to meet the special education needs of their students.
H.B. 1201 would limit charter school management organization fees to no more than 5 percent of tuition charged per student enrolled. Besides limiting overhead, the bill would require much more disclosure of financial documentation from for-profit and nonprofit school management organizations.
H.B. 1202 would require charter schools to use the same teacher evaluation system already in use at other public schools. This would take effect in the 2017-18 school year and would allow parents and taxpayers to compare "apples to apples."
H.B. 1203 would address the millions of dollars' worth of ads for charter and cyber charter schools, which would have to stop advertising "free" tuition or transportation. Their ads would have to start disclosing that instructional and transportation costs are paid for by tax dollars, much like the existing requirement for ads by state agencies.
H.B. 1204 would provide a clear process for administrators to follow when closing a traditional or charter school building. The bill also would allow the state to develop a database of unused or underused school facilities to ensure their potential sale or re-use benefits for the taxpayers who paid for them.
H.B. 1205 would require school districts and charter schools to transfer student records to each other within 10 days of receiving the request, and this would include attendance records. Failure to transfer files has been an issue statewide.