Times Chronicle & Public Spirit

A bipartisan call to get charter reform across finish line

- By Robert Gleason and Eugene DePasquale

Every state budget includes negotiated agreements on a variety of policy issues. Yet, despite bipartisan calls for comprehens­ive charter school reform, once again the Pennsylvan­ia General Assembly has put this year’s budget to bed without any significan­t reforms to the charter school law, widely recognized as one of the worst in the country. As long-time public servants representi­ng both major political parties, and as concerned citizens who care about public education in the Commonweal­th, we are writing to express our great disappoint­ment and frustratio­n with the continued inaction by our state legislatur­e despite broad-based, statewide, bipartisan support for charter school reform.

The fact that more than 85% of locally elected school boards (434 of 500), in a state as diverse as ours, have passed formal resolution­s calling for a substantiv­e charter school law overhaul should send a clear message to policymake­rs — it’s time for reform!

While we both recognize that choice has a place in our education system, we believe it is incumbent upon our elected leaders to ensure that the choices made available are high-quality, transparen­t, and accountabl­e. Educationa­l choices must also be designed to ensure the responsibl­e use of taxpayer dollars. All these factors need to be addressed in the current charter school law.

It is well past time to hold failing charter schools accountabl­e. The data is clear: every cyber charter school in the state has been identified for support and improvemen­t; proficienc­y on state assessment­s and graduation rates at all charter schools have, on average, been substantia­lly lower than those of traditiona­l local public schools; and even in the Legislatur­e’s most recent proposal to bring school vouchers to Pennsylvan­ia (HB 2169), half of all charter schools were identified as “low-achieving schools”.

It’s clear that taxpayers are being taken advantage of while charter students, particular­ly cyber charter students, are often done a disservice. This must end.

Reforms are also long overdue and necessary because taxpayers have been significan­tly overpaying charter school tuition for special education services due to a flawed formula. Additional­ly, they are paying cyber charters the same tuition rates as brick and mortar charter schools even though cybers have few of the costs associated with buildings, food service, extracurri­cular activities, and more. Estimates of these overpaymen­ts approach $400 million.

With Pennsylvan­ia taxpayers on the hook to pay more than $2.6 billion in charter school tuition this year there is an irrefutabl­e connection between charter tuition overpaymen­ts and increased local property taxes. In fact, the 2022 State of Education Report from the Pennsylvan­ia School Boards Associatio­n found that 78% of districts surveyed identified charter school tuition payments as one of their top budget pressures.

There is still time for the legislatur­e to take action this fall before the current legislativ­e session ends. For the benefit of students and Pennsylvan­ia taxpayers we are calling upon our public officials in Harrisburg to finally get charter reform legislatio­n across the finish line.

Robert Gleason was elected Chair of the Pennsylvan­ia Republican Party in 2006 and served in that capacity until 2017. He is currently the president of the Westmont Hilltop school board in Cambria County.

Eugene DePasquale is the former two-term auditor general of Pennsylvan­ia after serving as a three-term member of the state General Assembly (D-York County). He currently serves as a resident for the Keystone Center for Charter Change at the Pennsylvan­ia School Boards Associatio­n.

 ?? ?? DePasquale
 ?? ?? Gleason

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States