House Dems tackling charter school reform
Unhappy with a comprehensive charter school reform bill being pushed by House Republicans, House Democrats recently unveiled a package of nine separate bills aimed at solving the issue.
Among the nine bills is one sponsored by Rep. Carol Hill-Evans, D-York City, that would prevent charter schools from continuing to enroll new students if the school has been notified its charter will be terminated or not renewed.
House Bill 1249, the first bill authored by the first-term representative, would allow a charter school to continue enrolling students if the school has filed an appeal but require it to immediately stop if that appeal is denied.
“In York, we know how difficult the closure of a charter school can be,” Hill-Evans said in the release. “We shouldn’t allow charter schools to continue enrolling students if they know they are going to close. It’s unfair to those children and unnecessarily disruptive to their education.”
Hill-Evans said her legislation was inspired by New Hope Academy Charter School, which was closed by York City School District in 2014. It continued enrolling students up until its closure date.
Helen Thackston Charter School is at risk of the same fate because of troubling test scores and a lack of financial transparency.
York City School District was not interested in commenting on Hill-Evans' legislation, according to a district spokeswoman.
Hill-Evans noted that her bill also would alleviate concerns about charter schools anticipating closure enrolling more students in order to artificially inflate any payments based on enrollment when a school closes its doors.
GOP bill: Hill-Evans had offered the bill as an amendment to the GOP-sponsored House Bill 97, which aims to offer comprehensive charter school reform, but the amendment was voted down in the House along party lines.
Despite that failure, Hill-Evans said she's hopeful her legislation will be able to pass as a standalone bill.
The House Republicans' bill proposed to change the funding formula for cyber charter schools and increase financial transparency, among other changes.
Hill-Evans, who sits on the House Education Committee, voted against the legislation, which awaits final passage in the House.
She said the GOP bill failed to hold public charter schools to the same standards of accountability and transparency as traditional public schools, including allowing charter schools to hold more in reserve funds than school districts.
"I'm not against charter schools," she said. "But we should all march to the same tune, and clearly we are not."
One of the other House Democrats' charter school reform bills would specifically aim to limit that surplus.
Reforms: The bills also include preventing conflicts of interest in building leases and stopping charter schools from using “free” or “tuition-free” claims on advertisements.
“Public education shouldn’t be about private profit; in some cases, it has become that,” said Rep. Mark Longietti, D-Mercer.
Longietti's bill would limit management fees to no more than 5 percent of tuition per pupil. Longietti said he hopes his bill will “shine a light” on what he claims are large amounts of public tax dollars going to for-profit management organizations.
At the moment, there is no limit beyond negotiation that dictates what management companies may charge charter schools in the commonwealth.
“When it comes to public tax dollars, (school management is) not what it should be about,” Longietti said.
All nine bills currently sit in the House Education Committee.