From the creation of Pennsylvania’s charter school law in 1997 to today there has been greater public school choice in the state, and many charter schools are doing a good job. That’s one of the positives noted in PA Auditor General Eugene DePasquale’s audit of charter schools.
But DePasquale said there are still many challenges in the charter school system. His audit recommends increased accountability, transparency and effectiveness of charter schools and includes a recommendation to create an independent statewide charter school oversight board.
“They will develop and implement a new charter school appeals process, and they will serve as a repository and publisher of best practices information for both charter schools and school districts,” DePasquale said.
The group would also act as a resource to address charter-related issues raised by school districts and charter schools, including providing clarification on statutory provisions, regulations, guidelines and other questions. DePasquale said not all charter schools are equal, and they shouldn’t be treated as such.
“The school districts need to know what’s happening, and they need to have the ability to weigh in if something is going wrong,” he said, “but by the same token, when a charter is doing their job, they shouldn’t be treated every five years like a failing charter school.”
In addition to independent oversight, DePasquale said charter schools and districts need to meet at least once a year in a public forum.
“Where the charter school has to present their annual report and the school district has to sit there and listen to it and ask questions about it and it has to be in an open and transparent way during one of their regular-scheduled school board meetings so that the public can come as well,” he said.
Other recommendations from DePasquale:
- Reinstitute the charter school tuition reimbursement from the state to offset charter school tuition paid by school districts
- Eliminate cyber charter school payments from school districts and replace with direct funding from the state
- Overhaul the charter school annual report template and require charter schools to verbally present their report to the authorizing school district in a public meeting
- Impose the same limits on charter school fund balances as imposed on school districts, but provide for a waiver process for certain exemptions such as construction or renovation projects
- Change regulations to allow the Department of Education’s special education division to serve as the intermediary between charter schools and school districts when a student classification is in dispute;
- Create a tiered funding mechanism for special education
- Mandate implementation of a standard, statewide charter school student admissions form and lottery admission system and prohibit schools from requiring submission beyond standard identification details and residency requirements
- Require charter schools to have the same teacher and principal performance evaluations as school districts and establish guidelines on how charters should calculate the 75 percent-of-teachers-certified requirement
- Allow noncompliance with the Right-to-Know Law to be a factor in charter school renewal decisions;
- Create a website that would clearly identify expenditures for charter schools and traditional public schools that would include information on vendor contracts, superintendent buyouts, leases and transportation costs
- Require charter schools to request and receive a timely public hearing and school district vote on approval from the authorizing school district for any amendment or new contract for educational services
DePasquale called this report a blueprint that he hopes will re-ignite discussion on the state’s charter school law. More than 84,000 Pennsylvania students are enrolled in brick-and-mortar charter schools, 35,000 are enrolled in 16 cyber charter schools. The full report can be found online.