By Eric Boehm | PA Independent
HARRISBURG — A major charter school reform package that would include funding changes and additional academic accountability is widely viewed as a top priority for Republicans in Harrisburg during the fall session, which began Monday.
But at least one top House GOP leader said little has been accomplished since the proposal reached the doorstep of becoming law in late June.
“We’re coming back cold,” said House Education Committee Chairman Paul Clymer, R-Bucks, on Monday. “I heard nothing much from leadership or the governor’s office about where we’re at for charters.”
Clymer said he has read numerous media reports about the charter school bill being near the top of the Legislature’s fall agenda, but he has seen no indication from his bosses that it will be moving swiftly.
On the final day of the spring legislative session, both chambers of the General Assembly approved charter school bills with the same basics — including a new statewide performance matrix for charters, a requirement that all charters audit their books annually and limitations on how much the schools could hold in reserve bank accounts.
The problems were relatively small ones, but they were unable to be resolved and lawmakers punted to the fall with the promise of finding a compromise before the end of the year.
Steve Miskin, spokesman for House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, said conversations were held with the state Senate leaders and the Corbett administration over the summer.
“We’re still trying to narrow that gap,” he said Monday.
Tim Eller, spokesman for the Department of Education, said meetings took place over the summer, but he declined to comment on any specific area in which progress was made.
“Ultimately, everything is subject to final negotiations,” he said.
One of the major hang-ups in the spring dealt with the creation of an independent statewide authorization authority for charter schools in Pennsylvania.
The bill passed by the state House would create a Charter School Appeal Board with the power to supersede school districts that block the creation of new charter schools, but only after the charter is rejected by the local school district.
Meanwhile, the governor’s office is looking to create a parallel track for authorizing charter schools at the state level without going through the school district first.
Eller said that was still the administration’s preferred setup.
That component is particularly important to charter school advocates concerned about current law that gives school districts the sole authority to create charter schools. They say districts block new charters to prevent competition within the district.
Groups like the Pennsylvania School Boards Association were concerned that a statewide authorization authority would leave districts without the necessary local control.
“There needs to be some level of local control because there are still public schools,” Clymer said.
A second disagreement centered on a provision in the House version of the bill that would have exempted contractors with charter schools from disclosing some information normally covered by the state’s Open Records Law.