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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. 


  1. I am very concerned about the financial impact that a private authorizer system would have on school districts throughout PA. Local school boards understand the school district's ability to cope with increased expenditures (i.e., charter school tuition bills) and can make decisions based on what is best for taxpayers who fund the school district and for students who attend the schools. A private authorizer will not understand the financial impact of its decision on school districts or deal with the consequences and may even have a financial conflict of interest. Legislators must consider the fact that PA colleges and universities may financially benefit from becoming charter school authorizers. Many colleges and public universities are struggling financially right now and making money by authorizing charter schools could be very appealing to the boards that manage them. In that case, it is very possible that a the board of a college or university would not have any interest in the financial stability of school districts. Instead, their focus would be on authorizing charter schools and filling the seats in order to make as much money as possible for their own institution. This is a very serious problem that needs to be addressed by our legislators. The bottom line is that PA cannot afford to provide adequate and equitable funding for the traditional public schools and charter schools we have now. Creating a system that would encourage the unfettered expansion of charter schools without any regard for the fiscal impact on taxpayers or children in public schools is reckless. Our legislators need to be focused on ways to increase efficiency in the spending of taxpayer dollars on public education and strengthening all of our public schools.

  2. Here is one of my suggestions: What about an amendment that says that universities that want to take over a public school/authorize a charter have to have some skin in the game? Universities that authorize a charter would have to pay ($2K? -- or some amount that brings that school into alignment on a funding formula) per head to help provide for the school's needs and give taxpayers some relief. That way they have some responsibility for and investment in a school they they authorize.

  3. In a general sense Senate Bill 1085 is an example of taxation without representation. Taking the school board out of the approval process in favor of a state authorizer is a slap in the face to our local communities. We as local taxpayers are being asked to host schools which are being over funded for services often poorly provided or even in many cases not provided at all. Who is picking up the bill? We are as local taxpayers! In the Allentown School District the charter bill has gone from 3 million to 19 million in 5 years (a 600% increase). Charters with their for profit management companies target places like Allentown with the false promise of high test scores and higher levels of learning. As families are lured by this false nonsense the unfair funding formula sucks money away from the district and forces the nearby public school to cut teachers and programs and raise taxes to balance the budget. While 1085 gives some money back to local school districts it is nowhere near approaches the 50% overcharging that is happening under the present system. 1085 should be amended to ensure full local control and seriously at least begin to address the flawed funding formula along the lines of what the Auditor General has called for. Also, how can we seriously be trying to make it easier to approve new charters in the wake of all of the scandals? 1085 is miles away from being a good bill.

  4. I thought central to being a conservative was giving control to local governments. Senate Bill 1085 takes all the power out of the hands of local governments and puts it in the hands of some Harrisburg appointed Kingmaker. Local taxpayers will be left picking up the pieces and paying for a mess they didn't want or create. Pennsylvania Charter Schools are the poster child for how NOT to do charter schools. Pro-reform institutions like the CREDO institute have looked at Pennsylvania, specifically, and pointed out the flawed and failed system. Rather than learn from the failures or look to these types of reports to help inform their legislation, the PA legislature wants to further entrench and reinforce the worst aspects of PA charter schools. Any serious legislation would seek for reforms that included more oversight and audits. Big business charter schools don't like the accountability local school districts have demanded and are hoping some appointed Yes Man will make their lives (and profit making) a whole lot easier. If you take away local control for charter school oversight, than you cannot expect local school boards and taxpayers to pay for them. This is an unfunded mandate gone wild, the costs are simply bankrupting school districts across the state. This bill smells of a legislation crafted by the charter schools themselves in order to perpetuate a scheme of increased student populations without an increase in attention to student performance or financial accountability. The fact that this bill has gone as far as it has, given how bad it is for the local taxpayer and ultimately for students, demonstrates the legislatures interest in pleasing the charter school industrial complex over the constituents they represent. Can we please have some REAL charter school reform.