Stanford University has released a 2019 report on Pennsylvania's charter schools and the results were overwhelmingly negative: 11 out of 15 Pennsylvania cyber schools were featured on a list of low-performing schools. With Pennsylvania's current charter school laws being some of the most outdated and insufficient in the nation, the Wolf administration is proposing a three-part plan to fix and modernize Pennsylvania's charter schools.
“Every student deserves a great education, whether in a traditional public school or a charter school, but the state’s flawed and outdated charter school law is failing children, parents, and taxpayers,” said Governor Wolf in an announcement on November 15. “Pennsylvania has a history of school choice, which I support, but there is widespread agreement that we must change the law to prioritize quality and align funding to actual costs.”
The new charter school plan is projected to save $280 million per year, in part by better aligning charter school funding to actual costs. This includes placing caps on tuition payments for cyber schools. Adding to this, the special education funding formula will apply to charter schools as it does for traditional public schools, as recommended by a bipartisan Special Education Funding Commission.
In addition to legislation, the plan includes executive action and overhauling regulations. The Department of Education is using a fee-for-service model to recoup the costs of thousands of staff hours to implement the Charter School Law. The department is also developing new regulations for charter schools that will prioritize educational quality and transparency.
Despite costing $1.8 billion a year, charter schools, and cyber schools which contribute to about $500 million of that, have little public oversight and no publicly elected school board. For-profit companies that manage many charter schools are not required to have independent financial audits.
“My plan will hold charter schools accountable so parents and students have a high-quality option that prepares students for success and protects taxpayers,” said Governor Wolf.
The rising cost of charter schools is draining funding from traditional public schools, which has forced cuts to classroom programs and property tax increases. The Wolf administration met with legislators, school districts, charter schools, and other stakeholders to develop the three-part plan.
“There are high-quality charter schools, but some of them, especially some cyber charter schools, are underperforming,” said Governor Wolf. “The inequities are not fair to students in charter schools or to the children in traditional public schools. It’s time for change.”