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Thursday, November 21, 2013

SB 1085 creates a private authorizer system and more concerns....

SB 1085 (charter school legislation) creates a private authorizer system and allows vendors to set up shop in communities and send them a bill for services without their consent.

Charters schools, operating as authentically public entities can play a good role in the public education arena, but they must function as public institutions - where communities have a say and the schools are set up by the community and accountable to the community. 

Furthermore, it is certainly true that charter policy needs to be revised.  We need to fix the broken funding system, adopt a fair state formula and allocate the appropriate resources to responsibly provide a publicly accessible opportunity to learn to all of Pennsylvania's students. Charter schools are part of the current means of delivering public education and we should improve policy and our funding system to account for them. Our current system is poorly done, and there are a number of ways it could stand to be improved.  But SB 1085 is not the legislation that will do it.

SB 1085 has several key provisions that we are extremely concerned about which will make some very big changes to charter school policy, changes that do not improve conditions in Pennsylvania. There are a number of concerns, and I invite you to read a summary of concerns here, or read the Education Law Center analysis here. 

But the short version is this:

This bill, as written, adopts a private authorizer system. It is being called a "state authorizer" system (which is also very problematic and we oppose) but that is a misnomer.  Higher education institutions would be able to decide to approve a charter school and communities would still be responsible for paying for them - so taxpayers would have all of the responsibility and none of the say. We are very concerned about any entity not accountable to the public having this power.  Communities and elected school boards would not have any say about the role of charter schools.  Even if the university is local, their boards are obligated - first, foremost and by law - to their own institution.  Furthermore, as we understand it, even a higher education institution with no role or ties to a community that engages in the authorizer process would be able to approve a charter school in another part of the state.  This would be extreme policy. 

Enrollment caps would be gone.  Again - communities would not have any say over the role that charters play in their community.  Again, this is extreme.  Communities have a responsibility and the prerogative to make determinations about their financial obligations and the manner of delivering services.  

There are other concerns, but these two deserve to be especially highlighted. 

We invite your comments about your concerns about this legislation and how to improve it, and your concerns about and ideas for actually improving charter school policy in PA. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Urgent: New Charter Bill Has Serious Issues – take action! 

The PA Senate is considering a very problematic new charter school bill, SB 1085 under the guise of “reform” and you know what we say – calling it reform doesn’t make it better policy!  Our biggest concern is a proposal to create a statewide authorizer, which would allow designated entities to authorize charter schools, which takes away the power from communities to make local decisions.  It gives the power to approve charter schools to high-education institutions – but local tax-payers would still foot the bill! The legislation also removes enrollment caps, which means communities lost more control over how these institutions function within their community and over how public education is delivered – while still being responsible for the cost.  You can read more here. 

Please take action and contact your Senator and let them know that SB 1085 is not a good idea for Pennsylvania schools.
Click here to email your Senator. 

Update: Special Education Commission

As you may remember, the Pennsylvania Special Education Commission is holding a series of hearings to develop an equitable formula for funding special education in schools across the commonwealth.  On September 26 Education Voters of PA gave testimony on the best way to approach a funding formula that creates equity and fosters the highest quality education opportunities for special needs students.

First, the testimony pointed out that all education funding formula discussions must consider the actual cost of educating a student. Flat funding for special education is an untenable condition for children. As we get better at recognizing the individual needs of children and developing the methodologies and practices to meet those needs, we must also improve our delivery of services, including equipping schools with the capacity to provide them. And as with regular funding, there should be weights for known cost factors, such as poverty and English Language Learning services.

Education Voters of PA encourages the Commission to consider the precedent-setting aspects of their recommendations. Pennsylvania must to develop methods that focus on using data and updating our understanding of costs that will be looked to as a model for basic education and that stop ignoring the impact of poverty in the educational needs of children. The methodology for funding special education must be a building block for a larger framework for funding public education – which is to say that when you start building a house – you may decide to build one section first – but you do it with the whole design of the house in mind. It must all fit together.

The legislature still isn’t working on a funding formula! 

On September 23rd, Education Voters of Pennsylvania, with Keystone State Education Coalition and Education Matters, held a press conference at the Capitol in Harrisburg to call on the legislature to move forward on a funding formula and adequately fund the cost of educating Pennsylvania’s students. As legislators returned to session, they were greeted by 70 Pennsylvanians representing 40 districts across the state. A number of legislators from various parts of the Commonwealth joined parents, teachers, and taxpayers to express a common goal: making education a priority and adopting a funding formula. The press conference also highlighted 14,000 petition signatures (currently up to 18,000 signatures!) from over 250 school districts asked the legislature to support a better way of funding public education and the adoption of a funding formula to equitably distribute those funds. 

The conference was covered statewide, in 10 news articles from across Pennsylvania, including Harrisburg, Bucks County, Chambersburg, Beaver County, and Easton, and including the front page of the Philadelphia Inquirer, an op-ed, and an editorial. Our opinion piece about state funding was published in the Harrisburg Patriot-News, followed the next day by an editorial that our “diagnosis of the problem is 100% accurate.”   We will continue to move forward to education legislators, civic and business leaders and people across Pennsylvania about the necessity and benefit of adopting asensible funding formula that meets the needs of children and  provides economic stability and transparency for communities. 

We’ll let you know how they are doing in Harrisburg to get Pennsylvania on the right track.  Stay tuned.

Thanks for all of your support,

Susan Gobreski
Executive Director
Education Voters of PA