Selected readings on US charter schools
The 22-page report recommends that the state form an independent charter school oversight board to enforce charter school law, which school districts feel has “no teeth,” DePasquale said.
The report also suggests restoring the state’s partial reimbursement to school districts for charter school tuition costs, requiring charters to verbally present annual reports to school boards and shifting funding of cybercharter schools from the school districts to the state, among other recommendations.
The goal of the report is to improve the accountability, effectiveness and transparency of charter schools and cybercharter schools, DePasquale said. His recommendations are based on audit reports and input gathered during a series of hearings he held to hear suggestions from both school district and charter school officials.
While many charter schools are doing great work, charters and school districts continue to struggle with often-confusing laws and unpredictable, inconsistent, or nonexistent guidelines from the state, he said. Both sides agreed that the state’s lack of oversight is an “enormous problem,” DePasquale said in the report.
As an example, the report cites the embattled Pocono Mountain Charter School. Nearly a decade after the Pocono Mountain School District identified problems there, the report says, the school is still open even though its charter has been revoked, it has no board of trustees and is being run by a court-appointed custodian. The school district has spent $400,000 alone trying to enforce its authority.
“The issues are not new, and have been studied and debated for more than a decade, without results,” said DePasquale, a former Democratic state representative from York County. “The Legislature must take action now to fix these long-standing problems.”
Rep. Paul Clymer, R-Bucks, chairman of the House Education Committee, said most of DePasquale’s recommendations are reasonable. Many are already addressed in bills passed or proposed in either the House or Senate.
The Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools applauded the report. It has historically supported some of DePasquale’s suggestions, such as a standard statewide charter enrollment application, a tiered special education funding formula and the same limits on fund balance for both districts and charters, President Bob Fayfich said.
Chief among DePasquale’s recommendations is formation of a charter school oversight board, which would replace the Department of Education’s current charter school office and Charter School Appeal Board.
The oversight board would address problems with statutory provisions, regulations and guidelines, such as charter schools not complying with Right-to-Know requests. It would also answer questions from either districts or charter schools about charter school law and train school districts to effectively authorize charter school applications.
The idea is intriguing, Fayfich said.
“But the details of such a broad-ranging proposal need to be worked out in a way that avoids redundancy and ensures both consistency and equity for all Pennsylvania families,” he added.
Much of the tension between charter schools and school districts is based on the state’s financial problems, which have left school districts counting every penny that leaves when a student enrolls in a charter school, DePasquale said.
Districts often complain that charter schools can classify a student as “special education” without any district oversight, which earns the charter more tuition money.
DePasquale’s report suggests using the Department of Education’s special education division as a form of “instant replay,” allowing districts to challenge a charter’s designation to a higher authority.
Bethlehem Area School District Superintendent Joseph Roy, who testified at a hearing in Easton, said the report offers practical solutions to some of the key issues school districts face.
“It’s a positive report,” Roy said.
DePasquale also suggests that charter schools have the same teacher and principal evaluations as school districts, and recommends that charter school violations of the Right-to-Know Law be factored into charter renewal decisions.
“The bottom line is this,” DePasquale said. “We owe it to our children and to the taxpayers of Pennsylvania to make sure that we are doing everything possible so that students are getting the best education available and that we are getting the best return on investment for our tax dollars.”
Source: The Morning Call – by Adam Clark