Report: Pa. charter school laws fall in rankings for third year in a row

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools in their annual report released today rated the strength of Pennsylvania’s charter school laws 19th out of 43 states that have similar legislation. Pennsylvania has now fallen six spots in the rankings over the past two years.

“Pennsylvania first enacted a charter school law in 1997,” said Bob Fayfich, executive director of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools, which represents 120 charter schools in the state.

He favors amending that law, which governs the establishment and funding of charter schools in Pennsylvania. “It has not been significantly changed in the 15 convening years,” he said. “We have learned a lot about what it takes to create a high quality charity school since then.”

But the group’s reform efforts have been met with resistance, according to Fayfich. “We tried three times this year, but the teachers union and school boards association opposed the new legislation each time.”

He emphasized the cost-effectiveness of charter schools. “If the cost per student in a school district is $10,000, charter schools spend $5,200 to $8,000 — with the average being $7,000 — per student,” he said. “The school district retains the rest of that money.”

NAPCS vice president for state advocacy Todd Ziebarth, who authored the report, said the drop had more to do with the aggressive changes made in other states than with any regression in Pennsylvania.

Still, he identified several areas where Pennsylvania could use legislative improvement. He said those include “prohibiting district-mandated restrictions on growth, expanding authorizer options, ensuring authorizer accountability, providing authorizer funding, allowing multi-school charter contracts or multi-contract governing boards and ensuring equitable operational funding and equitable access to capital funding and facilities.”

The demand for charter schools in the state remains high — an estimated 115,000 Pennsylvania students are enrolled in charter schools, while an additional 44,000 students are on waiting lists.

SRC staffing shakeup

The report’s release comes on the heels of a staffing shakeup at the embattled School Reform Commission, which oversees public schools in the city.

SRC member Lorene Carey chose not to seek reappointment because of medical reasons. Sylvia Simms, who was for 15 years a School District bus attendant and founded advocacy group Parent Power, was yesterday tapped to fill Carey’s seat.

“I plan to provide a voice to people whose views are often unheard in decisions about our schools,” Simms said in a statement. “Our children deserve the best, and, as a member of this commission, I will work even harder to ensure that they get it.”

Mayor Michael Nutter also reappointed Rutgers University-Camden chancellor Dr. Wendell Pritchett to serve another term.

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