Now more than ever before as a number of traditional district schools fail Pennsylvania’s children, (see, “State files to take control of Harrisburg School District”) parents are looking for other options to educate their children. Enter charter schools. Pennsylvania’s Charter School Law passed in 1997. In 2002, cyber charters were added to the law. To date Pennsylvania has 175 charter schools and 15 cyber charters. Charters and cyber charters were formed because many traditional district schools were failing students and parents at an alarming rate. Unfortunately, Pennsylvania’s charter schools and cyber charters are constantly under attack by school districts, educators and others.
Reforms to the Commonwealth’s charter school laws have been an area of discussion among legislators, advocates and opponents of the state’s laws for the past several legislative sessions. Four bills, HB 355, HB 356, HB 357 and HB 358 passed out of the House earlier this week and now await consideration in the Senate.
More details about this package of bills follows below:
HB 355– HB 355 is sponsored by Representative Mike Reese (R-Westmoreland). The legislation provides for a more transparent process for the exchange of relevant information. This bill addresses and amends several components of existing charter school law including requirements around advertising, the composition of a charter or cyber charter school’s board of trustees and fund balance limits. Specifically, the legislation states that, “any paid media advertisements by a public school entity that refer to the cost of tuition or transportation shall not advertise those expenses as free…and must stipulate that these costs are covered by taxpayer dollars.”
The legislation goes on to address the composition of a charter or cyber charter school’s board of trustees, and states that at least one member of the charter or cyber charter’s board of trustees should be a parent of a child currently attending the charter school entity. Finally, the bill describes what a charter or cyber charter school’s unassigned fund balance limits should be. HB 355 passed by a vote of 142-54.
HB 356– HB 356 is sponsored by Representative Matthew Dowling (R-Fayette). This bill deals primarily with the facilities a charter or cyber charter school can use. The legislation grants charter schools the right of first refusal for the purchase or lease of unused school district buildings. It also requires school districts, intermediate units, member institutions of the State System of Higher Education and community colleges to make their facilities available to cyber charter students for purposes of standardized testing. Close to 20 amendments were considered and were either withdrawn, failed or ruled out of order. The bill passed the House by a vote of 105-91.
HB 357– HB 357 is sponsored by Representative Jesse Topper (R-Bedford). This legislation aims to standardize the charter application and approval process and would require the PA Department of Education create a standard application form for new and existing charters. The bill also puts forth the length and terms of a charter- with initial charters being good for no less than three but no more than five years. The legislation stipulates that renewals must be voted on within 120 days of receipt of the completed renewal application. HB 357 was by far the most controversial of the charter reform legislative package. Nearly 30 amendments were offered with only two being agreed to. The two amendments that were agreed to include language that clarifies if a charter is nonrenewed or terminated that school may not enroll new students and another amendment from the bill’s sponsor that cleans up and clarifies some of the intent of the bill. HB 357 passed by a vote of 106-91.
HB 358– HB 358 is sponsored by Representative Jim Marshall (R-Beaver). This bill allows charter schools and cyber charter schools to offer dual enrollment opportunities to their students. This means that students enrolled in a charter or cyber charter school can enroll in, and take classes at a local college or university and receive credit for doing so. Currently, these opportunities for dual enrollment only exist for traditional public schools. Close to ten amendments were offered to this bill on the floor of the House. All amendments failed or were ruled out of order. This bill passed by a vote of 142-54.
It is now up to the Senate to decide whether or not to send these bills to the Governor’s desk. Pugliese Associates, in advocating for the majority of cyber charter schools, is proud to advocate for school choice and is in support of this package of bills.
Without charter schools and cyber charter schools the alternatives for parents and students when their school has failed them become next to none. Pugliese is committed to ensuring through our work at the State Capitol and throughout the State that charter and cyber charters will continue to not just exist but grow and thrive in the Commonwealth. The results and impact of strong academic options for students not only betters the lives and academic environment for children in the moment but for communities overall in the long term.
Pugliese Associates represents several clients in the charter/cyber charter space. These clients include: K12, the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School Association and InsightPA Cyber Charter School.