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.
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.