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Charter Schools Bills Stalled in Pa. House

Will GOP House members push ahead on charter school funding changes and academic accountability during the fall session?

By Eric Boehm | PA Independent

HARRISBURG — A major charter school reform package that would include funding changes and additional academic accountability is widely viewed as a top priority for Republicans in Harrisburg during the fall session, which began Monday.

But at least one top House GOP leader said little has been accomplished since the proposal reached the doorstep of becoming law in late June.

“We’re coming back cold,” said House Education Committee Chairman Paul Clymer, R-Bucks, on Monday. “I heard nothing much from leadership or the governor’s office about where we’re at for charters.”

Clymer said he has read numerous media reports about the charter school bill being near the top of the Legislature’s fall agenda, but he has seen no indication from his bosses that it will be moving swiftly.

On the final day of the spring legislative session, both chambers of the General Assembly approved charter school bills with the same basics — including a new statewide performance matrix for charters, a requirement that all charters audit their books annually and limitations on how much the schools could hold in reserve bank accounts.

The problems were relatively small ones, but they were unable to be resolved and lawmakers punted to the fall with the promise of finding a compromise before the end of the year.

Steve Miskin, spokesman for House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, said conversations were held with the state Senate leaders and the Corbett administration over the summer.

“We’re still trying to narrow that gap,” he said Monday.

Tim Eller, spokesman for the Department of Education, said meetings took place over the summer, but he declined to comment on any specific area in which progress was made.

“Ultimately, everything is subject to final negotiations,” he said.

One of the major hang-ups in the spring dealt with the creation of an independent statewide authorization authority for charter schools in Pennsylvania.

The bill passed by the state House would create a Charter School Appeal Board with the power to supersede school districts that block the creation of new charter schools, but only after the charter is rejected by the local school district.

Meanwhile, the governor’s office is looking to create a parallel track for authorizing charter schools at the state level without going through the school district first.

Eller said that was still the administration’s preferred setup.

That component is particularly important to charter school advocates concerned about current law that gives school districts the sole authority to create charter schools. They say districts block new charters to prevent competition within the district.

Groups like the Pennsylvania School Boards Association were concerned that a statewide authorization authority would leave districts without the necessary local control.

“There needs to be some level of local control because there are still public schools,” Clymer said.

A second disagreement centered on a provision in the House version of the bill that would have exempted contractors with charter schools from disclosing some information normally covered by the state’s Open Records Law.

for real September 28, 2012 at 09:44 AM
It should be understood that Corbett and Turzai despite all of their talk about fiscall responsibilty and holding the line on spending will remain silent on wasteful so called school choice spending because they take a ton of money from the special interest groups behing it all. Contact your legislatures and demand reform. Besides the Auditor General we have plenty of Dems and Republicans who see the problem and advocate reform but they need to be supported: http://www.repfleck.com/NewsItem.aspx?NewsID=14514
LoMac Res September 28, 2012 at 11:20 AM
Republicans are all for "local control," unless of course it goes against their ideology. Then they are more than happy to rip away local control of LOCAL tax dollars and enforce the state's will upon the school districts if it supports their pet charter school theories. These shenanigans need to stop, and the perps need to be held accountable at the ballot box. News flash, PA Republicans: Pennsylvania isn't Alabama.
LMTnative September 28, 2012 at 12:07 PM
LoMac Res - You hit the nail on the head. Republicans are supposed to support limited government and greater local control. Tea Bag Tom and his cronies need to be brought under control and reminded of these basic principals. This is basic taxation without representation. Charter schools would require require local school districts to hand over tax dollars without control of how the money is spent. It is unconstitutional and must be stopped.
truth seeker September 28, 2012 at 02:03 PM
Corbett wants a state wide authorizer for charters. This means no more local school board approval process. Anybody who wants to start a cyber or bricks and mortars charter school, no problem. No need to have board meetings, no need for transparency, take all the money you want for profit. Some recent charter school fiasco's close by: http://articles.mcall.com/2012-09-24/news/mc-bethlehem-vitalistic-0924-20120924_1_vitalistic-therapeutic-charter-school-charter-appeal-board-regional-charter http://www.poconorecord.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20120313/NEWS/203130304/-1/rss01
eci September 28, 2012 at 06:38 PM
If everyone overwhelms corbett and representatives with comments and expectations, then they'd need to address reform or voted out of office. It's out of control, quickly draining the other schools that have integrity, pride, spirit, foundation and constant accountability.

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