Right Kind Of Charter
Schools -- Public Ones
Bill Johnson, July 1, 1997
--The Pennsylvania General Assembly passed
school choice legislation in June when it adopted the
Charter Schools legislation. Although the new law could
have ushered in the kind of chaos that Arizona is
experiencing with its wide-open Charter Schools law, the
Pennsylvania version actually includes most of the
protections for public schools and public school students
that advocates sought. Here, in summary, is what the new
- It allows parents, teachers, and
community groups to apply for a charter to
operate a public school with different
specialization's and allows for the waiver of
some state rules and regulations that govern
other public schools.
- It provides flexibility and
encourages innovation within the public school
- It maintains the state's
commitment to public schools, rather than
abandoning them through schemes such as tuition
vouchers that would encourage students to leave
public schools. In fact, the legislation provides
additional funding to help pay for the
anticipated movement of private school students
back into the public charter schools.
- It promotes parental and community
involvement in schools.
- It maintains local control of
local dollars by not allowing appeals of denied
charter applications for two years and then
requiring substantial public support before an
appeal can be made.
- It protects school employees from
losing contractual protections by disallowing
existing school entities from creating and
operating charter schools and by requiring the
support of a majority of teachers and parents in
existing schools before those schools can convert
to charter schools.
- It requires that at least 75
percent of teachers employed by charter schools
have state certification and requires charter
applications to list the qualifications needed to
staff any non- certified positions. The
legislation requires non-certified professionals
to "have demonstrated satisfactorily a
combination of experience, achievement and
qualifications as defined in the charter school
application in basic skills, general knowledge,
professional knowledge and practice and subject
matter knowledge in the subject area where an
individual will teach."
- It prohibits private schools from
converting to charter schools.
- It prohibits religious
institutions from operating charter schools.
- It prohibits for-profit companies
from operating charter schools.
The charter schools legislation passed
the Senate on a 30-18 vote on June 11 and passed the
House on a 137-57 vote early in the morning of June 12.
Governor Ridge signed it into law on June 19.
On a side note, several
tuition voucher supporters in the legislature were upset
that the charter school legislation passed, especially
with the provisions that guarantee public funds stay with
public schools. They stated earlier in June that its
passage would hurt their efforts to enact tuition
vouchers for private and religious schools. One rumor at
the capital suggests that they were promised a vote on
vouchers in the fall in exchange for their support of the
charter schools legislation.
Director of Communications, PSEA,