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Education Advocates Call Charter-School Reform Bill Flawed

House Bill 97 continues a financial incentive for charters to underserve severely disabled children. (amslerPIX/Flickr)
House Bill 97 continues a financial incentive for charters to underserve severely disabled children. (amslerPIX/Flickr)
April 25, 2017

HARRISBURG, Pa. – Legislation to reform charter schools in Pennsylvania could come up for a vote any day now, but education advocates say the bill doesn't fix the problem. House Bill 97 could be the first major reform of the state's charter-school law since it was enacted 20 years ago.

But, while it makes some improvements, such as creating a standard student-enrollment application, Kristina Moon, staff attorney at the Education Law Center, says it falls far short of being meaningful reform.

"This misses an opportunity to fix some serious problems that we see with the failure of charter schools to provide quality education in a transparent way that allows the authorizing school districts to hold them accountable," she explained.

Supporters of the bill say it mandates greater financial disclosure, increases transparency and strengthens accountability for charter-school operators.

But according to Moon, HB 97 would create a system for evaluating students, teachers and administrators at charters that would be separate from the system used in other public schools.

"We see this as a big problem because it would prevent families from accurately comparing the school options that are available for their students if there are two different systems," she added.

She says the law also doesn't fix provisions that allow charters to exclude most students with serious disabilities, leaving it up to the regular public schools to provide for their needs.

She says vague language in the bill appears to allow charters to expand into multiple buildings without district approval.

"It deprives the local school board of capping enrollment for charter schools that are not equitably serving all students in the district or providing a quality education," she said.

The Education Law Center says a responsible charter-school law would empower local districts to strategically control charter-school growth as a means to increase options and improve educational outcomes.

falls far short of being meaningful reform

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - PA