Charter Bill Stalls in House as Lawmakers from Both Parties Raise Questions

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After passing out of the state Senate Tuesday, a much debated charter school bill stalled in the House of Representatives this week due to an apparent lack of support from House Republicans, as the Harrisburg Patriot-News reports. With the Legislature now recessed for the upcoming elections and leaders of both chambers vowing not to schedule any legislative votes in the lame duck session, the bill is not likely to come before lawmakers again until the new legislative session next year.

From the Patriot-News:

Concerns arose over a charter school funding study commission it would have created and other reforms it contained, said House Speaker Sam Smith, R-Jefferson.

Smith said he began to see support melting away as members tried to resolve issues surrounding cyberschool, pension, and transportation issues that the bill intended for the proposed funding commission to take up. The commission would have been tasked with delivering recommendations on a new formula for funding charter schools by the spring. 

Capitolwire.com, meanwhile, reported (paywall) growing member distrust over an appropriation for Butler Community College classes in Jefferson County (the home county of both House Speaker Smith and Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati).

Republicans were not the only ones with concerns about the bill.

Hours before the bill was expected to be voted on in the House, Rep. James Roebuck, a Philadelphia Democrat and the minority chairman of the House Education Committee, gave the bill an incomplete grade for removing certain provisions.

"While I welcome some of the changes that have been made to this bill, the Republican majorities in the legislature and the governor could have — and should have — done much more to ensure accountability for tax dollars," Roebuck stated in a press release. "In the last two years, public schools have taken a nearly $1 billion cut in state funding, followed by a second state budget that locked in those cuts. These cuts have led to program cuts, the loss of 20,000 jobs and property tax hikes. We need to stop overpaying some charters at the expense of traditional public schools that have to accept every student."

Education Voters of Pennsylvania, a nonprofit organization that supports public education, wants to see the Legislature amend the bill and take it up next session.

"Charter schools are part of the public education landscape in Pennsylvania and we need to update the law, but it needs to be done right, not at the last minute under cover of other legislation," said Susan Gobreski, executive director of Education Voters of Pennsylvania. "That does not build public confidence that we are working on creating opportunities for all children to learn. We need to create fair conditions and funding formulas for all of our public schools. We need to ensure transparency and accountability, high quality programs and focus on providing every child with the education they need to succeed. That is the only reform that matters. This wasn't that, so we are glad it didn't go anywhere. We hope the legislature steps up next session."

Governor Corbett said he was prepared to sign the bill into law, even though it lacked a more controversial change that he was seeking — a provision that would have given a state independent panel the ability to approve brick-and-mortar charter applications without the approval of the school district where they are located, as is currently required. This would have allowed the state to expand charter offerings without local input.

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