After dropping the ball on charter school reform in the waning days of the last session, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives is taking another swing at it.
House Majority Leader Mike Turzai calls the new reform package a starting point.
While the legislation contains many commonsense changes to the charter school law, it's lacking several important fixes that still need to be addressed.
Charter schools, including cyber charters, receive per-student funding from home districts through a formula based on what it would cost those districts to educate each student.
That would be fine if all things were equal.
But they're not. School districts often have costs not shared by charter schools -- particularly cyber charters.
The House plan attempts to address that.
For example, it would end pension double dipping by charters. Districts now have to factor in 100 percent of pension contribution costs when calculating tuition contributions to charters, even though the state reimburses charters for half of their pension costs.
The legislation also would allow districts to deduct 50 percent of the costs they incur for extracurricular activities and 100 percent of the costs associated with services not necessarily offered by cyber charter schools -- things like student health, food and library services.
Last October, the state Senate approved a less-than-perfect charter school reform bill and sent it to the House, where it died with the end of the legislative session.
Granted, there were only days left in the session when the House received the bill. But it, too, was a start that could have been built on when the new session began.
Now the lawmakers are starting from scratch.
Interestingly, the new House proposal does not address some of the points the Senate tackled, just as the Senate version glossed over funding issues now being raised by the House.
We'd like to see some aspects of the Senate bill included in the current legislation -- things like ethics standards for charter school officials and putting the charter schools under the same sunshine law requirements as other public institutions.
One thing neither version addressed is an issue highlighted several times by former state Auditor General Jack Wagner in recent years -- the flawed formula that requires some districts to pay charter schools more than it costs to educate the students.
State law requires school districts to pay a charter school a per-pupil tuition based on the district's cost to educate that student -- not what it actually costs the charter school.
That means, for example, one district might pay a charter $3,000 per student, while another pays $8,000 per student. Which raises the question: If a charter can educate one district's student for $3,000 -- shouldn't it be able to educate all of the students for that amount?
These are some of the things we would like to see our lawmakers finally address.
But the House package is a good start.