New report on Pa. charter schools calls for reform, opposes House GOP bill

Leading legislator concerned bill could be rushed through with budget

HARRISBURG, June 28 – State Rep. James Roebuck, D-Phila., Democratic chairman of the House Education Committee, said a major education bill could pass in a rush around Friday's state budget deadline. So he's issuing a new report on charter schools in Pennsylvania that calls for strong reforms and explains why a House-passed Republican bill is mostly the opposite of reform.

Roebuck's latest report, his fourth on the topic, also comes as Pennsylvania's charter school law turned 20 years old this month.

"Unfortunately, the House Republican charter school bill, H.B. 97, is the equivalent of taking a leaky roof and drilling more holes in it. We need to fix the problems with Pennsylvania's outdated charter school law, not create more. Not all changes are 'reform,'" Roebuck said.

The report is available online at https://is.gd/2017CharterReport. One highlight is an update on the performance of charter and cyber charter schools in Pennsylvania, including:

  • For 2015-16, based on a scale of 100, the average School Performance Profile, or SPP, score for traditional public schools was 70.3; for charter schools, 58.4; and for cyber charter schools, 50.9.
  • As was the case in 2012-13 and 2013-14, charter schools, particularly cyber charter schools, still performed academically worse than other traditional public schools. For the 2015-16 school year, 54 percent of traditional public schools had SPP scores at or above 70, while only 24 percent of brick-and-mortar charter schools had SPP scores at or above 70 in 2015-16.
  • Since the enactment of the charter school law in 1997, 38 charter and cyber charter schools have closed – with two more in process in Philadelphia -- or about 18 percent of all the charter and cyber charter schools opened in Pennsylvania.

Other key points of the report include:

  • A detailed analysis of flaws in the House-passed charter school bill (H.B. 97), including the loss of $21 million in savings for traditional public schools on their charter school costs, failure to address double-billing for four types of services, stacking the state Charter School Appeals Board in favor of charter school applicants and allowing charter schools to keep much larger surpluses than traditional public schools (pages 6-9);
  • An outline of the House Democratic charter school reform package, which has bipartisan support and would treat all public schools equally (pages 10-11). Roebuck said, "The core idea of our legislative package is this: Charter schools and traditional public schools should be treated equally under law. Both receive tax dollars, and both are already considered public schools under Pennsylvania law";
  • Roebuck's proposal to require a state study of successes and failures after 20 years of charter schools in Pennsylvania (page 13) – "we need an honest look at the good, the bad and the ugly – this is about our kids' future, and this is about using scarce tax dollars wisely – not overpaying for even the best-performing schools."

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