|I am preparing to introduce legislation that will reform the nearly 20-year-old Charter School Law by making necessary improvements including a change to the funding formula for cyber charter schools. My bill is built upon HB 530 (2015-2016 session), which passed the House in March 2015 by a vote of 117-78, and passed the Senate (with amendment) in December 2015 by a vote of 40-10.
As with HB 530, the goals of my new 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, regional charter and cyber charter schools (together, “charter school entities”) 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improving and strengthening our Charter School Law, which was groundbreaking upon its enactment in 1997 but has become outdated over time.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, regional charter and cyber charter schools as a strong, quality school choice option for the Commonwealth’s children and families.
- For the 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 school years, allowing school districts to make the following additional deductions from their per-student expenditures when calculating their cyber charter school payments:tax assessment and collection services; 30% of operation and maintenance of plant services; and the actual total amount the district of residence paid to cyber charter schools under this section for the prior school year.
- Establishing a funding commission to consider and make recommendations concerning funding and other matters related to charter school entities.
- Making critical ethics, transparency, governance and auditing reforms.
- Providing for a streamlined payment dispute resolution process.
- Setting limits on charter school entities’ 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.
- Teacher evaluation systems that mirror those required for school districts.
- Longer renewal terms for high-performing charter school entities.
- Stronger enforcement of truancy laws.
- A process to approve Multiple Charter School Organizations, under which more than one charter school or regional charter school may consolidate under one board of trustees.
- At least one consolidating school must be high-performing.
- Local school districts retain initial and renewal approval authority.
- Districts and the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) have the power to approve or disapprove a consolidation, subject to appeal to the State Charter School Appeal Board.
- Improving the chartering process through establishment of the following:
- A standard application form to be developed by PDE for statewide use.
- More balanced membership on the Charter School Appeal Board.
- A charter amendment process.
- Improving the student enrollment process.
- Allowing charter school entity students to participate in dual enrollment programs.
- Granting charter school entities 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 apply to other organizations and community groups.
- Allowing families with multiple children attending one cyber charter school to opt out of receiving multiple computers, printers and monitors.
- Making necessary technical amendments.