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House of Representatives
Session of 2021 - 2022 Regular Session


Posted: February 5, 2021 04:34 PM
From: Representative Stephen Kinsey and Rep. Emily Kinkead
To: All House members
Subject: Cyber Charter School Study
The introduction of charter schools dramatically changed the education landscape in Pennsylvania over the past 24 years. In 1997, shortly after the passage of the Charter School Law, six charter schools opened in the state. By the 2020-21 school year, that number has skyrocketed to 181 operating charter school entities, including 14 cyber charter schools, educating more than 167,000 children, or 10 percent, of Pennsylvania public school students.

Even more notable is that since the enactment of the charter school law in 1997 a total of 38 charter school entities have closed including 33 brick-and-mortar charter schools and 5 cyber charter schools. This means that 18% of charter school entities opened since 1997 have closed. Two charter schools in Philadelphia had their charters revoked by the School Reform Commission in 2017 and the Philadelphia School Board are currently considering revoking two charters. There are a variety of reasons for the closure of these charter school entities, including academic, financial, and operational shortcomings that need to be explored and brought to light.

While supporters continue to praise charter school entities for providing additional opportunities for low-income students or others whose needs aren’t being met by traditional public schools, critics say they fail to share best practices for educating students, lack appropriate oversight, and place a financial burden on cash-strapped districts.

The original intent of the charter school law that passed in 1997 was to “encourage the use of different and innovative teaching methods” and to improve student learning that could be replicated by other public schools.”

Essentially, charter school entities were intended to be innovative labs of learning where teachers and administrators, not bound by the same federal and state academic mandates as regular public schools, could significantly improve student learning. The law specifically states that Charter schools are to “serve as a model for other public schools.”

In order to improve the existing charter school law, we believe it is necessary for us to further explore the best practices of our high performing charter school entities and the unsuccessful practices of our low performing and closed charter school entities across the state. The legislation that we will introduce would direct the State Board of Education to conduct a comprehensive study of charter school entities, specifically on what we’ve learned from the best practices of our high performing, successful charter schools and the shortcomings of our unsuccessful, failing charter schools.

It’s imperative for the State Board of Education to conduct this comprehensive study so that we can learn from our best charter school entities about those different and innovative teaching methods that can improve student learning and increase learning opportunities in all public schools for all of our students.