By Kevin Zwick
HARRISBURG (Oct. 16) – The Senate passed a newly-minted charter school bill on Tuesday, setting the legislation up for approval in the House this week before the end of the two-year session.
Senate Bill 1115 was amended Monday to replace most of the bill with new, agreed-upon language after a summer of negotiations between the legislative leaders and the governor.
The bill passed the Senate 33-16.
The bill omits key provisions sought after by the governor when dueling charter reform bills were considered in late June.
One of those provisions left out of the current bill is a statewide authorizing board. Local school boards will retain authorizing power of charters under the bill.
“The consolidated charter mechanism is another way to provide for a statewide authorizer. The consolidation would take place without taxpayer or school district oversight or input. It eliminates the local control over the appeal process for the denial of a charter. The bill takes away the audit authority of the Auditor General and places it in the hands of private charter operators,” Jerry Jordan, president of the PFT, said in a press release.
That isn’t the case, according to Senate Education Committee Chairman Jeff Piccola, R-Dauphin, a major proponent of the legislation.
“This provision provides for a very limited number of existing charters – charters that have already been chartered by a school district – that have multiple campuses so they could more efficiently run their operations with, for example, one board of directors instead of multiple boards of directors, so they could report to the Department of Education,” Piccola said.
He said the provision is for three existing, multi-campus charter schools – Masterly and Kipp in Philadelphia, and Propel in Pittsburgh – to consolidate and enter under statewide oversight.
“The compromise we worked out still says the local school districts will still give out the charter school charters…and the only exception is the three charter schools that are multi-charter,” said Senate Education Democratic Chairman Andy Dinniman, D-Chester.
The state’s largest teachers union, the Pennsylvania State Education Association, remained neutral on the bill, Dinniman added.
The other provision that caused some disagreement between parties in June would have made it easier to convert school district buildings into charter schools.
The original language of the bill was to create a Special Education Funding Commission to determine funding based on the needs of the child, which remains in tact.