Advocates: Charter School Reform at ‘Tipping Point’

MECHANICSBURG PA – A total of 407 school districts in the Commonwealth, representing more than 80 percent of all districts across the state, have adopted resolutions calling for charter school reform, the Pennsylvania School Boards Association reported Tuesday (May 25, 2021).

Charter School Reform at 'Tipping Point,' Advocates Say
Gov. Tom Wolf arrived May 19 in Pottstown to promote charter school reform

Its announcement comes just six days after Gov. Tom Wolf’s latest visit to Pottstown, during which he repeated what he sees as an urgent need to change the 24-year-old charter school law. “We’ve reached a significant tipping point,” association CEO Nathan Mains declared. Locally elected leaders, he said, “are telling the General Assembly that the change must come now.”

A favorable resolution from the Pottsgrove School District, issued in February, was the 400th to be added to its list, the association noted. Similar resolutions have been authorized by the Boyertown Area, Daniel Boone Area, Perkiomen Valley, Phoenixville Area, Pottstown, and Upper Perkiomen districts, and seven more have arrived since.

Pottstown, Pottsgrove and other districts statewide pay thousands of dollars annually from their own budgets for charter school enrollments, at per-pupil rates far higher by comparison to what the schools spend themselves. Meanwhile, they lack control over the charters’ educational curriculum or operations.

That last point particularly bothers Limerick-based 146th House District Rep. Joe Ciresi, who represents all of Limerick, Lower Pottsgrove and Perkiomen townships, Royersford and Trappe boroughs, and part of Pottstown in Harrisburg. He and the governor have been busy promoting House Bill 272 – one of the primary reasons for Wolf’s May 19 trip to the borough – and enlisting the support of fellow lawmakers.

Ciresi’s bill outlines measures, he said, for accountability, fairness, and lessening local school tax burdens. He contends it can save nearly $400 million annually, if passed. Moreover, he adds, the bill does not eliminate prospects of school choice or charter schools themselves. The bill currently is under review by the House Education Committee.

School boards’ responses to the Legislature shows they are speaking with a “collective voice,” according to Mains. That is being bolstered, he said, by a growing and increasingly bi-partisan push from Wolf and some legislators to re-examine and revise charter funding. The state’s currently “unbalanced charter school funding formula” hurts “districts, students and taxpayers by misallocating education resources,” the association claims.

Classroom photo by NeonBrand via Unsplash, used under license
Gov. Wolf photo by The Post