UNCHARTERED TERRITORY: The Legislature needs to jettison trivial pursuits & pass a new school bill (Originally in philly.com as a paper editorial)
Imagine buying a car and never doing routine maintenance. That’s pretty much the case with Pennsylvania’s charter-school law, which was passed back in 1997 and hasn’t been touched since.
In the meantime, the world of charters has changed dramatically.
In 1998, charter enrollment in the state was just a blip on the screen.
Today, 120,000 students statewide are enrolled in bricks-and-mortar or cyber charters, among them 67,000 students in Philadelphia alone.
While charter operators and school boards disagree on many things, they both believe it is time to update the law. Last year, a bipartisan commission came up with a series of recommendations for a new law.
Bills were duly introduced in the House and Senate, and that’s where the issue has sat all year. The Senate passed its version of a new charter law in July. That version and a similar House bill are sitting in the House Education Committee.
So far this fall, the Legislature hasn’t debated either bill. It’s time is being taken up with more pressing matters, such as genuflecting before the NRA to quickly pass a law that is designed to stymie local government attempts to crack down on illegal gun purchases.
We have a Legislature that can’t move on important issues because it is too busy with trivial matters important only to special interests. It gives new meaning to the term infantile paralysis.
To hammer home the point, a recent report by City Controller Alan Butkowitz takes an extensive look at the pros and cons of charters in Philadelphia and comes up with a “things to do” list of changes that should be made.
The bottom line is that charters have a significant impact on the finances of the Philadelphia School District, which must pay for charters. The growth of charter enrollment in the city has been so rapid it is hard to keep up with it – both in terms of cost to the district and oversight.
To highlight one point: If Philadelphia charters were a separate district, they would be the second largest in the state. Yet, the district has only six people in its charter office.
But, No. 1 on the list has to do with “stranded costs.” In theory, when a child leaves a public school for a charter school, the district should save money. In reality, it never turns out that way. A public school with 50 fewer students still needs a teacher in each grade, still must be lighted, heated and maintained.