Wolf Administration proposes regulations on charter schools to benefit students and taxpayers

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(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

HARRISBURG — On Friday, Governor Tom Wolf announced proposed new regulations to increase charter school transparency and accountability.

“We have a responsibility to all students, parents and taxpayers to fix our broken charter school law,” said Gov. Wolf. “Every child in Pennsylvania deserves a high-quality education that prepares them to succeed in life, but our current law lets some charter schools perform poorly at the expense of students enrolled in traditional district schools.

“These regulations, in combination with my bipartisan and common-sense legislative package, provide much-needed consistency, transparency and accountability, while preserving school choice.”

The proposed regulations clarify six areas of Pennsylvania’s Charter School Law:

  • Charter school applications requirement: Establishes requirements for applications to open a charter school, allowing school districts authorizing brick and mortar charter schools and the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) authorizing cyber charter schools to hold the schools to high academic, fiscal and administrative standards, ensures charter schools will equitably serve all students; and provides consistent application expectations.
  • Non-discriminatory enrollment policies: Requires charter schools to post their non-discrimination enrollment policy on their website and in the student application so families and taxpayers know how admission preferences are considered and weighted.
  • Boards of Trustees ethics standards: Clarifies that charter school trustees are subject to the state’s Public Official and Employee Ethics Act, addresses conflicts of interest, and sets penalties for violations. The same requirements already apply to school districts.
  • Financial and auditing standards: Requires charter schools to use common accounting principles and auditing standards as school districts already do. This will make reviewing annual reporters and financial records easier for school districts and PDE.
  • Redirection process clarification: Outlines the process to reconcile disputes over school district payments to charter schools for student tuition.
  • Charter school employee health care benefits parity: Ensures charter school staff have adequate health care. The charter school law requires charter schools provide the same health care benefits as the authorizing school district. The regulation clarifies that when a charter school serves more than one school district, the school district in which the charter school’s administrative office is located is the district of comparison.

The proposed new rules are part of the governor’s strategy to address the state’s charter school law, which is regarded as the worst in the country. In addition to the regulations, the governor is supporting legislation that would save Pennsylvania school districts an estimated $395 million by reducing charter school costs, holding low performing charter schools accountable and restoring public trust with increased transparency of for-profit companies that manage charter schools.

According to the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials, taxpayers spent $2.1 billion on charter schools last year, and between 2013 and 2019, 44 cents of every $1 of new property taxes went to charter schools.

The governor’s commonsense legislative plan, SB 27 and HB 272, looks to save $185 million a year by funding special education in charter schools just like the state does for all other public schools. He hopes to save an additional $210 million a year by establishing a statewide cyber charter school tuition rate.

The Department of Education has submitted the proposed charter school regulations to the General Assembly, the Independent Regulatory Review Commission (IRRC) and the Legislative Reference Bureau. The package is published in the PA Bulletin, and there is currently a 30-day public comment period that closes on Oct. 18. The department encourages all interested students, parents, educators, other stakeholders and the general public to submit comments at RA-EDCharterRegs@pa.gov.

Following this public comment period, the department will update the proposals and submit a final version of the regulations to IRRC for the last step in the state’s regulatory review process.

The Wolf Administration expects the regulations to take effect before 2023.

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