Harrisburg – May 24, 2017 – State Sens. Jim Brewster (D-Allegheny/Westmoreland) and Vincent J. Hughes (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery) reacted to today’s release of the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee report, which examined the financial impact of charter schools in Pennsylvania.
Brewster and Hughes have been long-time advocates of changing the state’s charter school law. Both senators have introduced legislation that includes a wide range of charter reforms.
“The Legislative Budget and Finance Committee study gives the General Assembly an excellent analysis of how charter schools operate vis-à-vis local school districts and where improvements can be made,” Brewster said. “The report includes a long list of recommendations that, if adopted, will aid public schools and provide charters with a reasonable path forward.”
Hughes, who serves as Democratic chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said that the charter law needs to be examined and reworked with reasonable and responsible changes that improve accountability and better serve students and taxpayers.
“Our charter law needs to be changed significantly with reforms that make sense,” Hughes said. “Charter schools play a role in our education system and have a place, but they cannot be positioned in such a way that they financially put our traditional public schools in a bind.
“The report from the LBFC reinforces the idea that the current system needs to be reformed.”
Brewster, who is vice chair of the committee, has offered a comprehensive charter reform measure (Senate Bill 670), which would realign and redefine how local school districts, charter schools, students and taxpayers interact. Hughes’ legislation, Senate Bill 198, would provide local school boards with the tools to better oversee charter schools in their school districts.
The LBFC report included several recommendations, including the following:
- Allowing fiscal considerations to be considered by school districts, the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE), Charter Appeal Board and the courts for new and expanded public charter applications;
- Permitting school districts to negotiate charter per pupil payment rates and methods;
- Eliminating mandates for transportation that are inconsistent with services offered for district-operated schools;
- Requiring parents who place students in charters to first register with school district and then notify the district of changes in status;
- Modifying the PDE funding intercept process to allow school districts to verify that it is responsible for payment prior to funding being intercepted by the department;
- Eliminating public school districts’ responsibility for charter school compliance with compulsory attendance requirements;
- Requiring greater transparency and fiscal accountability addressing such items as shell ownership, leasing, state payments, and conflict of interest policies; allowing audits of funds transferred to associated entities and for-profits; prohibiting the guaranteeing of loans where there is no direct school involvement; and requiring charter to timely submit financial records for the district to review; and
- Requiring all “brick and mortar” charter school students from multiple districts to obtain regional charters.
Several of the accountability and transparency provisions noted in the report are already pieces of Brewster’s and Hughes’ bills.
Brewster said there are significant political and financial issues to deal with when the legislature is moving forward with charter reform but he said he thinks common ground can be found and a better charter law produced.
“The law needs to be changed to include financial reforms, accountability measures and alterations to how the charter school appeal board operates,” Brewster said. “The recommendations made by the LBFC, combined with provisions in my legislation, Senator Hughes’ bill and others would go a long way toward improving how charters interact with local school districts.”
“There are many ideas to incorporate and plenty of work to do to achieve a better charter law,” Hughes said. “Our local school districts and charter schools both need to be treated fairly. We can strike that balance.”
Brewster said that he wanted to thank the members of the LBFC and its staff for its excellent work in preparing the report and the recommendations.
Editor’s Note: A copy of the LBFC report is available online: http://lbfc.legis.state.pa.us/Resources/Documents/Reports/584.pdf