State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

Advocates have critique for charter school proposal

Written by Mary Wilson, Capitol Bureau Chief | Nov 5, 2013 1:36 PM
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A proposal to change how charter schools expand and receive funding in Pennsylvania is getting the red pen treatment from some education advocates.

An analysis by the Education Law Center finds that the legislation would remove a crucial check on the growth of charter schools by allowing them to boost their enrollment without the approval of school districts. The change is meant to get around the adversarial relationship between districts and charters set up by state law, which puts the two entities in competition for students and dollars. The proposal would also allow charter schools to be established in partnership with universities.

Advocates say the proposal could leave school districts educating the students who need the most help - whether because they live in poverty, are learning English as a second language, or have special needs. David Lapp is a former charter school teacher and a staff attorney with the Education Law Center. He said Monday that charter schools should only be authorized by school districts.

"Their job is to ensure that all students receive a quality education," Lapp said. "When charters expand without any management, it concentrates those student groups more heavily in school districts and gives them less funding and less ability to adequately serve them."

But the bill's sponsor, Sen. Lloyd Smucker (R-Lancaster) said his bill would require charter schools to be more accommodating for at-risk students.

"They would essentially need to accept anyone who applies - within their limits of who they could accept in terms of numbers," Smucker said. "And then, if those numbers are exceeded, a lottery system would be required to choose students who come to the school."

The Education Law Center said Smucker's legislation should be more explicit to ensure at-risk students have equal access to charter schools.

His proposal would also launch a study of the funding formula for charters, to make it based on what it costs such facilities to educate a child - not what it costs the school district that would lose the student.


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