Selected readings on US charter schools
Now, 44 out of 500 school districts in the commonwealth oversee the creation and revocation of charters, but Senate Bill 1085 would grant institutions of higher education power to authorize the schools, assuming responsiblity for opening schools, overseeing existing schools and closing those failing to meet academic standards.
“Philadelphia is not performing well across those three functions,” said Jonathan Cetel, executive director of PennCAN, an education reform advocacy group.
The charter office for the School District of Philadelphia has lacked an executive director for more than a year and has not approved a new charter application in four years.
“The reason we need a conversation around another authorizer is because the system is so broken,” Cetel said.
According to an issue brief by PennCAN, increasing authorizing capacity would improve oversight.
Advocates say the changes would open opportunities for the tens of thousands of students on waiting lists for charter schools and would lead to higher quality in the charter sector.
Thirteen states allow higher education programs to authorize charter schools.
At the State University of New York, a subcommittee of the board of trustees acts as authorizer based on the research and recommendations of the university system’s Charter Institute. More than 80 percent of SUNY-authorized charter schools outperform their counterparts in reading and math.
Under Senate Bill 1085, which was introduced by Sen. Lloyd Smucker, R-Lancaster, the governing board of an institution of higher education would vote to become authorizers.
Not every university can make that choice, however.
“I would be reluctant to get involved with Penn State in terms of authorizing,” said university president Rodney Erickson at a Senate hearing in February.
“In general, I do not think that our academic units are well-equipped to oversee the day-to-day operations of charter schools. In addition, I would not want it to detract from our core business, and this work has the potential to become a possible distraction,” Erickson said.
But the hope is for other state schools to take on the job, though none have definitively expressed interest.
“We believe a university would get involved because of their background in education,” said Tabitha Hummer, deputy chief of staff for Smucker.
“If they are offering an education degree, they would have an idea of what students need to move on to college,” she added.
Organizations such as the Pennsylvania School Boards Association oppose the bill because, while universities would be authorizing new schools, local school districts would be responsible for making charter payments. They are concerned about a loss of local control and accountability.
The Senate Education Committee approved the bill, and it awaits further debate.
Source: Pennsylvania Independent – by Maura Pennington