|I am preparing to introduce legislation that will reform the funding formula for cyber charter schools as well as make necessary improvements to the nearly 18-year-old Charter School Law. My bill is built upon HB 618 (2013-2014 session), which passed the House in September 2013 by a vote of 133-62.
The goals of my legislation are two-fold. First, my bill seeks to generate financial savings for school districts and local taxpayers by making sensible changes to the formula for funding cyber charter schools. Second, my legislation will improve school choice by strengthening the law under which charter and cyber charter schools are established and operate. My bill will accomplish these goals by doing the following:
The reforms embodied in my legislation are critical to improving and strengthening our Charter School Law, which was groundbreaking upon its enactment in 1997 but has become outdated over time. We must make these reforms now in order to maintain charter and cyber charter schools as a strong school choice option for the Commonwealth’s children and families.
- Allowing school districts to make the following deductions from their per-student expenditures when calculating their cyber charter school payments:
- School district food service costs for the preceding school year, which will result in annual savings of approximately $14 million.
- School district payments to cyber charter schools for the preceding school year, which will result in annual savings of approximately $7 million.
- The deduction for payments to cyber charter schools will sunset after two years.
- Establishing a funding commission to consider and make recommendations concerning funding and other matters related to charter school entities.
- Membership will be as follows:
- Four members of the Senate appointed by the President pro tempore of the Senate (two majority/two minority).
- Four members of the House of Representatives appointed by the Speaker of the House (two majority/two minority).
- The Secretary of Education or a designee.
- The Chairman of the State Board of Education (State Board) or a designee.
- The following members appointed by the Chairman of the State Board (subject to State Board approval):
- Five members representing the interests of charter schools.
- Five members representing the interests of school districts.
- The Commission’s report will be due in one year.
- Making critical ethics, transparency, governance and auditing reforms.
- Establishing a system of direct pay that provides charter and cyber charter schools with dependable funding while providing for a streamlined dispute resolution mechanism.
- Setting limits on charter and cyber charter schools’ allowable unassigned fund balances, and providing for the refund of excess fund balances to tuition-paying school districts.
- Monitoring and improving academic quality through the following:
- A performance matrix to be developed by the State Board (which may incorporate the School Performance Profile already created by the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE).
- Teacher evaluation systems that mirror those required for traditional public schools.
- Longer renewal terms for high-performing charters.
- Stronger enforcement of truancy laws.
- A process to approve Multiple Charter School Organizations, under which more than one charter school may consolidate under one board of trustees.
- At least one consolidating charter school must be high-performing.
- Local school districts retain initial and renewal approval authority.
- Districts have the power to approve or disapprove a consolidation.
- Decisions by PDE or school districts to disapprove a consolidation may be appealed to the State Charter School Appeal Board.
- Improving the chartering process through the following:
- A standard application form to be developed by the State Board for the use of all authorizers.
- Adding a charter school administrator and trustee to the Charter School Appeal Board.
- Clarification that school district-imposed enrollment caps are illegal.
- Establishment of a charter amendment process.
- Improving the student enrollment process.
- Granting charter schools a right of first refusal for the purchase or lease of unused school district buildings.
- Requiring school districts, intermediate units, member institutions of the State System of Higher Education and community colleges to make their facilities available to cyber charter school students for purposes of standardized testing, in accordance with the same policy that would be applied generally to other organizations and community groups.