Capitolwire: Senate panel drops statewide authorizing board from charter school reforms.

By Kevin Zwick
Staff Reporter
Capitolwire

HARRISBURG (Oct. 15) – A statewide authorizing board for charter schools isn’t included in agreed-upon legislation expected to move in the Senate on Tuesday.

The Senate Rules Committee passed an amendment to overhaul Senate Bill 1115 to remove language that would have charged a state board with authorizing charter schools. The new language keeps authorizing power with local school boards.

“I’d have loved to see a statewide authorizer in there, and I think the governor wanted one as well, but there just wasn’t the support in the House for one that was a strong statewide authorizer, one that was meaningful,” said Senate Education Committee Chairman Jeff Piccola, R-Dauphin. “We’ll leave that fight for another day.”

The amended bill would allow two or more charter schools to consolidate and transfer oversight to the state Department of Education. Existing charter schools may do so 90 days after the department creates an application process, while new charters would need approval from their local schools board before consolidating and transferring oversight to the department.

The amended bill also no longer includes language to make it easier to convert school district buildings to charter schools, a point of contention when the Legislature tried to pass charter reforms in late June. House GOP spokesman Steve Miskin said it was removed to reach the agreed-to language.

“When the Senate sends us the amended special education funding and charter reform bill, it will be a product that we all worked together on and agreed to. And we plan to take it up this week,” said Miskin.

As amended, SB 1115 is more similar to the language of the Senate’s charter school bill that stalled in the House during the waning days of the 2011-12 fiscal year, according to Piccola. At the time, both chambers passed their own charter school legislation.

The amended bill passed 14-2, with Philadelphia Sens. Vincent Hughes and Tina Tartaglione casting opposing votes.

CLICK HERE to read a summary of the charter school amendment.

The amendment changed the bill to require direct payments from the state Department of Education to charter or cyber charter schools, while allowing charter schools the choice to remain under the current payment system. It also creates a charter funding advisory commission.

The amendment includes language stating the Ethics Act applies to all charter school entity trustees and employees, prohibits conflicts of interest, and requires annual ethics filings.

“I think the ethical and accountability and transparency reforms are great for the charter community because that will give them a great deal of credibility and prevent some of the abuses you see from individual charters that kinda damaged the whole movement’s reputation,” Piccola said.

The amendment also removes language dealing with the Right-To-Know law that caused some controversy when both chambers passed their respective charter bills in late June. The new language calls for charter schools, educational management service providers and their non-profit charter school foundations to follow standardized reporting requirements.

The amendment also requires all initial and renewal charter school applicants to include a teacher evaluation system.

“We are encouraged because the legislation as we understand it provides elements we support that include increased flexibility, transparency and accountability for charter schools,” said Ken Kilpatrick, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools.

SB 1115 still contains language to establish a Special Education Funding Commission to develop a three-tier distribution formula based on the need for services, with more funding going toward students with a greater need for services.

Senate GOP spokesman Erik Arneson said the Senate will take up the bill for final passage on Tuesday. Miskin said the bill could be voted on as early as Wednesday in the House.

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