The General Assembly had a chance to tweak the state's charter school law in the session just ended, but chose to hand off the issue to the next class of legislators.
The Senate had passed a bill strengthening some financial and educational oversight on charters, but the House said the thing was just too complicated to address before their election hiatus. That's a shame, because there were some good things in the bill.
One wonders, however, whether the governor's long reach into the innards of the legislature had a hand in the bill's ultimate demise.
Yes, Gov. Corbett is on record supporting the legislation, which passed the Senate with fairly wide bipartisan support, but there were some things missing that the governor had wanted. Specifically, Gov. Corbett favored removing the review and approval of public school boards for charter applications, giving that duty directly to the state Department of Education in Harrisburg.
Along with local zoning with regard to natural gas production, that would follow a trend of taking more and more decisions away from local authorities and placing them in the hands of cabinet offices. Under current law, although local school boards have a first crack at a thumbs up or down on new charters - reference the recent experience in Warren County - charter supporters still have an option to appeal a denial to the state Department of Education.
The current law also gives teachers a say in some forms of charter conversions - reference the recent experience in Warren County. Throughout the Commonwealth public school teachers have a contractual agreement with the school district they work for. Whether or not you are a fan of teachers unions, contracts are still binding agreements, and a conversion charter school option without teacher input would seem to us to repudiate that relationship. There are other options to create a charter school. Gov. Corbett was opposed to the faculty input section.
But, like we said earlier, there are good things in the bill: more oversight of educational standards, restrictions on overly large cash reserves, and an acknowledgement of the difference in overhead costs of brick-and-mortar charters and cyber charters.