Bob Fayfich: Charter school reform must include accountability of school districts

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale’s Your View (“Fixing Pa.’s worst-in-nation charter school law is overdue”) essentially repeats the recommendations of his May 2014 report, and although we also believe that the charter school law should be updated, we have the same concerns with the auditor general’s recommendations now as we did then — with one addition.

Our historical concerns have been that the recommendations defend due process for school districts but deny it for charters; assume that all districts always act in good faith; dismiss the district role in creating inefficiencies and unnecessary costs; and ignore the impact of the recommendations on parents, children and the Pennsylvania Constitution.

Contrary to Mr. DePasquale’s assumption, many districts do not want charter schools to exist, regardless of how well they are educating children, and they do everything legally within their power, and sometimes illegally, to see that they don’t. The appeals process is the only protection the charter schools and the children in those schools have from inappropriate or illegal actions by the districts.

The report is silent to the fact that more than 200 districts refuse to pass through money to the charters in violation of the law, and the fact that the situations described as inefficient in Philadelphia were caused by actions of the district that were subsequently determined by the state Supreme Court to be in violation of the Pennsylvania Constitution.

Perhaps the greatest recommendation to increase efficient spending of taxpayer dollars is for districts to act within the law, but that recommendation is not included among those of the auditor general.

The new concern is that the auditor general is now identifying the Pennsylvania charter school law as the “worst in the nation,” when there is no factual basis for that statement.

Two independent national organizations, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and the Center for Education Reform, do independent annual comparisons of charter school laws in every state and neither has ever ranked Pennsylvania’s law as the worst in the nation.

This willingness to deviate from fact to hyperbole, coming from the office that is charged with basing its conclusions and recommendations on rational investigation and analysis, is disconcerting.

There is no disagreement with the fact the charter school law in Pennsylvania is out of date, but what is needed is a comprehensive and holistic approach, such as in House Bill 530, rather than a limited review that chooses to cherry-pick the need for more stringent charter school accountability and oversight while ignoring district accountability and illegal actions.

Bob Fayfich is executive director of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools.



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