Written by Susan Spicka
March 22, 2022

On Monday, March 21, with a 3-2 vote, the Independent Regulatory Review Commission (IRRC) approved regulations for charter and cyber charter schools.

These regulations, which were promulgated by the Wolf Administration, clarify Pennsylvania’s 25-year-old Charter School Law to improve accountability, equity, quality and transparency in the charter sector (see a summary below).

The regulations clarify that charters need to be held to the same standards as their district counterparts and, in a nutshell, tell charters: Don’t cheat, don’t steal, and don’t discriminate against students.

I am very proud of the very important role that we played in helping get these across the finish line. Ed Voters supporters submitted more than 630 letters in support of the regulations in the fall, balancing out comments sent in by the charter industry and demonstrating strong public support for the regulations at a critical point in the process.

Click HERE to read a the comments that we gave during the hearing on Monday.

These regulations are a very important step in the right direction.

Now it’s time to turn our effots toward reforms that must be enacted by the state legislature, including funding reforms that will align charter tuition payments with the schools’ actual costs to rein in wasteful spending of public dollars. Stay tuned for more on that next week!

The Republican response to the regulations

Republicans have fought and continue to fight against these commonsense regulations.

On March 15th, the House and Senate Education Committeess voted along party lines to send a letter to IRRC disapproving the regulations.

Now that the regulations have been approved, either the House Education Committee or Senate Education Committee has 14 calendar days from when it receives the approval letter from IRRC to issue a concurrent resolution on the regulations to attempt to overturn them. After the committee reports a concurrent resolution, the House and Senate have 30 days or 10 legislative days, whichever is later, to pass the concurrent resolution. If it passes, it goes to the Governor and he will likely veto the resolution.

If the House and Senate cannot muster a veto override, the regulations will go into effect according to a set timeline–unless Republicans bring a legal challenge, which would waste tax dollars and potentially further draw out this process.

Thank you for your support of PA’s public school students.

Best,

Susan Spicka, Executive Director, Education Voters of PA

SUMMARY OF PROPOSED CHARTER SCHOOL REGULATIONS

Application requirements

Requires applicants seeking to operate a charter school to apply using a form created by the Department or similar application developed by the authorizing school district.

  • The application must include detailed data on students it intends to serve, governance structure, curriculum and assessment strategies, and Code of Conduct.
  • It also clarifies that cyber charters must meet the same application requirements and use the form created by the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

Ed Voters’ note:  A rigorous and standardized charter application process will allow charter authorizers to hold prospective charter schools to high academic, fiscal, and administrative standards and help authorizers ensure charter schools are prepared to equitably serve all students.

Enrollment

  • Clarifies that all children in Pennsylvania are eligible for admission to a charter school.
  • If more students apply to a charter school than number of slots available, then students are selected on a random basis.
    • Details requirements for random selection process and must be included in application.
    • Requires enrollment data to be published annually on a charter school’s website.
    • Requires random selection process to be posted on the school’s website in a manner that is access to families with limited English proficiency and disabilities.
    • Similar guidelines are established for cyber charter schools.

Ed Voters’ note: Charter admissions policies should be publicly posted and discriminatory enrollment practices should be ended to ensure students have equal access to charter school education. The proposed regulations benefit students and help ensure that students are not discriminated against based on intellectual or physical ability or disability.

Requirements for Board of Trustees

  • Each trustee of a charter school entity is a public official that is held to the Public Official and Employee Ethics Act.
  • Trustees must file a statement of financial interest.
  • Trustees must disclose and abstain from any conflict of interests.
  • Identifies penalties for violating ethics requirements.

Ed Voters’ note: Charter schools are public schools. It is past time for the trustees of these schools to be held to basic ethical standards and to disclose and abstain from any conflicts of interest. It is also past time for the clarification of penalties for individuals who violate the public trust and use their position as a public school trustee for personal financial gain.  These requirements already apply to school districts.

Fiscal Management and Audit Requirements

  • Charter schools must follow generally accepted standards of fiscal management and audit requirements.
  • To meet this condition, charter school entities will likely need to work with an accounting firm. Currently, charter school entities that receive at least $750,000 in Federal funds are already required to conduct an annual audit.
  • 148 out of PA’s 163 charter school entities meet the minimum $750,00 threshold

Ed Voters’ note: Charter schools are expected to receive $3 billion in tax dollars in 2020-2021. It is reasonable for these public schools to follow generally accepted standards of fiscal management and audit requirements. This will make reviewing financial records easier for school districts, state auditors, and the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

Redirection Process

  • Establishes new procedure with timelines, due dates, and required forms for a charter school to request payment.
    • The new system is intended to reduce the number of redirection requests submitted by charter school entities to PDE and increase payments directly to charter school entities by resident school districts.

Ed Voters’ note: This process will reduce tension between districts and charters and simplify the payment process for both charters and districts.

Health Care Benefits for School Employees

  • Clarifies that charter schools must comply with the Charter School Law related to the provision of health care benefits.