Summary Statement from Auditor General of Pennsylvania, Eugene DePasquale
Almost two decades after Pennsylvania authorized their creation, some public charter schools are doing great things for students and offering new ways to learn. However, both school district and charter school officials agree serious problems exist with the law and how it is enforced.
Based on audits of school districts and charter schools, as well as on feedback at meetings held across the state, it’s clear that the original intention of the charter school law has not been fulfilled.
Many people on both sides of the issue indicate that a clear lack of direction and oversight at the state level causes huge problems at the local level.
It is past time to fix the worst charter school law in the nation.
Therecent audit of the Allentown School District is a good example of how convoluted the charter school law is and how it can negatively affect schools trying to do the right thing.
The Allentown School District was put into a no-win situation when it twice rejected a new charter school application but later cut a deal approving it to avoid the complicated and expensive charter school appeal board process.
Charter school backers used an entirely legal maneuver to demonstrate community support by hiring head-hunters to persuade parents to “pre-enroll” students.
Theaudit of the Philadelphia school district’s oversight of charter schools showed similar challenges. The lack of clarity of the charter school law resulted in unpredictable legal costs that hit $1.4 million over three years because of legal complications over enrollment caps, new charter authorizations, appeals from denied applications and reauthorizations of existing charter schools.
And while there are problems with the charter school law itself, serious problems also exist with the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s enforcement of the law.
For example, the department diverted $15 million in subsidies from the Philadelphia school district and sent it directly to charter schools without any hearings, as required by the charter school law.
To address oversight and resource concerns not properly addressed in the law, the auditor general’s report recommends creating an independent statewide charter school oversight board that could, among other things:
•Act as an effective and prompt resource to address charter-related issues raised by school districts and charter schools, including providing clarification on statutory provisions, regulations, guidelines, and other questions that arise.
Among the other recommendations, it could also:
•Reinstitute the charter school tuition reimbursement from the state to offset charter school tuition paid by school districts.
•Require charter schools to have the same teacher and principal performance evaluations as school districts.
•Require charter schools to request and receive timely public hearings and votes from the authorizing school districts.
Charter schools are here to stay, and thousands of parents clearly welcome having a choice when it comes to sending their children to public schools. However, the longer Pennsylvania delays reform, the more students’ education suffers — and the more taxpayers foot the bill for inefficiency.