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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 law does.
  • 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 system.
  • 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.
Bill Johnson,
Director of Communications, PSEA,
WHJPSEA@aol.com



 


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