The bill, approved by the state Senate 33-16, goes to the House of Representatives as the Legislature's fall schedule winds down. It passed with bipartisan support, with 26 of 29 Republicans and seven of 20 Democrats voting "yes." Passage is possible later this week in the House after heavy lobbying by "school choice" advocates, teachers' unions and school boards.
"Yes, it's a compromise. Yes, no one is completely happy, and that's the very reason that this is a good bill and you should vote for it," Sen. Andrew Dinniman, D-Chester, told colleagues.
Debate and long hours of closed-door talks on charter school legislation began in earnest in early 2011 after Corbett, a Republican, took office.
Key provisions of the bill would subject charter school officials to stronger ethics standards while limiting the surplus cash school operators can keep, requiring the schools to have teacher evaluation standards and annual audits and commissioning the State Board of Education to create performance standards for the schools.
It also would create a commission to make recommendations in an effort to resolve long-standing complaints over how much money charter schools and cyber charter schools are paid to educate students. A separate provision would create a commission to recommend a special education funding formula for public school districts.
Making it easier for charter schools to open has been a pillar of Corbett's education agenda to encourage the state's lowest-performing public schools to improve by forcing them to compete for students.
However, two key provisions he sought ran into bipartisan opposition and were ultimately left out of the bill after holding up passage for months.
One of those provisions would have eliminated the ability of school boards to have a say in the creation of a charter school in favor of giving that power to a statewide board. The other would have eliminated the ability of teachers to object to the conversion of a school building into a charter school.
Neverthless, Corbett supports the bill.
Education Department spokesman Tim Eller said it "contains badly needed updates to our charter school law that will increase the accountability and performance of our charter school system."
Senate Education Committee Chairman Jeffrey Piccola, R-Dauphin, a key proponent of the two provisions, said they could re-emerge later when lawmakers take up the commission's recommendations on how much charter schools should be paid.