Measuring Up

 



Pennsylvania

TOTAL SCORE:
137 out of 228

Rank: 24 out of 43

Year Charter School Law Was Enacted:  1997 Estimated Number of Public Charter Schools in 2013-14:  176 Estimated Number of Public Charter School Students in 2013-14:  130,842 Pennsylvania did not pass any legislation in 2013 that affected its score and ranking. Pennsylvania’s score increased from 131 points in 2013 to 137 points this year.  The score changed because of adjustments in our methodology for Component #3 (Multiple Authorizers Available) and Component #4 (Authorizer and Overall Program Accountability System Required). Its ranking went from #19 to #24.  This drop had more to do with the aggressive changes made in other states than with any steps backward in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania’s law needs improvement in several areas, including prohibiting district-mandated restrictions on growth, expanding authorizer options, ensuring authorizer accountability, providing authorizer funding, allowing multischool charter contracts or multicontract governing boards, and ensuring equitable operational funding and equitable access to capital funding and facilities.

Do Pennsylvania's laws align to the model law?

Model Law Component

Matches

Pennsylvania's Charter Law

Score

1. No Caps

weight = 3 | Possible total = 12

Pennsylvania law does not place any caps on charter school growth. However, some school districts (e.g., Philadelphia) have chosen to place a moratorium on new schools and issue enrollment caps.

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1A. No limits are placed on the number of public charter schools or students (and no geographic limits).

1B. If caps exist, adequate room for growth.

2. A Variety of Public Charter Schools Allowed

weight = 2 | Possible total = 8

Pennsylvania law allows new start-ups, public school conversions, and virtual schools.

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2A. New start-ups.

2B. Public school conversions.

2C. Virtual schools.

3. Multiple Authorizers Available

weight = 3 | Possible total = 12

Pennsylvania law provides the following potential authorizers: local schools boards, two or more local boards for regional charters, and the state department of education for virtual charter schools. It provides that applications denied by local school boards can be appealed to a state appeals board. If approved by the state appeals board, the law requires the chair of the state appeals board to sign the written charter if the local school board still refuses to grant the charter. According to the law, this appellate process does not apply for those applicants within districts governed by a school reform commission (i.e., Philadelphia). There are 176 charter schools open in the state.

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3A. The state allows two or more authorizing options (e.g., school districts and a state charter schools commission) for each applicant with direct application to each authorizer.

4. Authorizer & Overall Program Accountability System Required

weight = 3 | Possible total = 12

Pennsylvania law includes a small number of the elements of the model law's authorizer and overall program accountability system.

While the law does not require the legislature and governor to regularly review the performance of the state department of education as an authorizer, they can do so at any time. In addition, the ability of the state department of education to continue authorizing can be removed by the legislature and governor (the entities that gave it that authority).

The law does not require at least a registration process for local school boards to affirm their interest in chartering to the state, does not require authorizer submission of annual report which summarizes the agency’s authorizing activities as well as the performance of its school portfolio, does not require a regular review process by authorizer oversight body of local school board authorizers, does not require authorizer oversight body with authority to sanction local school board authorizers including removal of authorizer right to approve schools, and does not require a periodic formal evaluation of overall state charter school program and outcomes.

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4A. At least a registration process for local school boards to affirm their interest in chartering to the state.

4B. Application process for other eligible authorizing entities.

N/A

4C. Authorizer submission of annual report, which summarizes the agency’s authorizing activities as well as the performance of its school portfolio.

4D. A regular review process by authorizer oversight body.

4E. Authorizer oversight body with authority to sanction authorizers, including removal of authorizer right to approve schools.

4F. Periodic formal evaluation of overall state charter school program and outcomes.

5. Adequate Authorizer Funding

weight = 2 | Possible total = 8

Pennsylvania law includes none of the model law's provisions for adequate authorizer funding.

0

5A. Adequate funding from authorizing fees (or other sources).

5B. Guaranteed funding from authorizing fees (or from sources not subject to annual legislative appropriations).

5C. Requirement to publicly report detailed authorizer expenditures.

5D. Separate contract for any services purchased from an authorizer by a school.

5E. Prohibition on authorizers requiring schools to purchase services from them.

6. Transparent Charter Application, Review, and Decisionmaking Processes

weight = 4 | Possible total = 16

Pennsylvania law contains detailed application requirements for all schools. It also contains additional application elements specific to conversion schools and virtual schools.

While no provisions are noted for those using educational service providers, state case law (School District of the City of York v. Lincoln-Edison Charter Schools, 772 A.2d 1045 (Pa. Cmith 2001) requires a fully executed management agreement to be submitted with an application if the charter school is going to use a management company.

The law does not require additional application elements specific to replications.

While the law does not require authorizers to issue a request for proposals, statute does list general criteria which local school board authorizers must consider in reviewing charter school applications, including level of support from teachers, parents, and others, the capability of the applicant to provide comprehensive learning experiences, extent to which the application considers items required in law, and the extent to which the charter school may serve as a model for other public schools. The statutory list of criteria for the state department of education to consider when reviewing virtual school applications is similar, but notes that they must consider the extent to which the programs in the application will enable students to meet state academic standards and assessments.

Statute requires a public hearing during the application process, but not an in-person interview.

Statute specifies that all decisions regarding charter applications must be made in open meetings, with written notice sent to the applicant, state department of education, and state appeals board including any reasons for denial and a description of deficiencies.

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6A. Application elements for all schools.

6B. Additional application elements specific to conversion schools.

6C. Additional application elements specific to virtual schools.

6D. Additional application elements specific when using educational service providers.

6E. Additional application elements specific to replications.

6F. Authorizer-issued request for proposals (including application requirements and approval criteria).

6G. Thorough evaluation of each application including an in-person interview and a public meeting.

6H. All charter approval or denial decisions made in a public meeting, with authorizers stating reasons for denials in writing.

7. Performance-Based Charter Contracts Required

weight = 4 | Possible total = 16

Pennsylvania law requires a “written charter” as signed by the authorizer and the board of trustees of the charter school, with such written charter incorporating the school’s application.

Statute is clear that the written charter must contain the provisions of the application as to what the charter school is to do, but does not include the responsibilities of the authorizer. It also only generally mentions the need for “performance standards set forth in the written charter” within the revocation section instead of defining academic and operational performance expectations by which the school will be judged based on a performance framework.

Pennsylvania law provides that initial charters can be no less than three years and not more than five years.

Pennsylvania law requires contracts to include provisions addressing the unique environments of virtual schools.

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7A. Being created as a separate document from the application and executed by the governing board of the charter school and the authorizer.

7B. Defining the roles, powers, and responsibilities for the school and its authorizer.

7C. Defining academic and operational performance expectations by which the school will be judged, based on a performance framework that includes measures and metrics for, at a minimum, student academic proficiency and growth, achievement gaps, attendance, recurrent enrollment, postsecondary readiness (high schools), financial performance, and board stewardship (including compliance).

7D. Providing an initial term of five operating years (or a longer term with periodic high-stakes reviews.

7E. Including requirements addressing the unique environments of virtual schools, if applicable.

8. Comprehensive Charter School Monitoring and Data Collection Processes

weight = 4 | Possible total = 16

Pennsylvania law requires authorizers to annually assess whether each charter school is meeting the goals of its charter and conduct a comprehensive review prior to granting a five-year renewal.

The law requires charter schools to complete an annual financial audit.

As authorizer, the law specifies that it has ongoing access to the records and facilities of the charter school to ensure compliance.

The law does not require authorizers to produce and publish annual school performance reports aligned with the performance framework set forth in the charter contract as provided in the model law. Instead, it requires charter schools to participate in the state assessment system and submit annual reports to their local school board and the state secretary of education using a form prescribed by the secretary for charter schools. It requires authorizers to annually review such assessment data and other performance indicators to ensure compliance with academic standards and assessment.

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8A. The collection and analysis of student outcome data at least annually by authorizers (consistent with performance framework outlined in the contract).

8B. Financial accountability for charter schools (e.g., Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, independent annual audit reported to authorizer).

8C. Authorizer authority to conduct or require oversight activities.

8D. Annual school performance reports which are made public.

8E. Authorizer notification to their schools of perceived problems, with opportunities to remedy such problems.

8F. Authorizer authority to take appropriate corrective actions or exercise sanctions short of revocation.

9. Clear Processes for Renewal, Nonrenewal, and Revocation Decisions

weight = 4 | Possible total = 16

Statute does not formally address renewal applications, but does mention charter schools “seeking renewal” and a comprehensive review at the time of renewal. There are no requirements for authorizers to issue performance reports or renewal applications or guidance.

Pennsylvania law offers general guidelines for renewal decisions, whereby authorizers are to conduct a comprehensive review prior to granting a five-year renewal. It provides that they can non-renew or terminate for material violations of the statute or their charter, as well as failure to meet state requirements for student performance or any performance standard set forth in the written signed charter.

In most districts, the law provides for five-year renewals. It also allows authorizers that are school districts of the first class to sign one-year renewal contracts if adequate data does not exist to warrant a full five-year renewal.

The law requires authorizers to provide notice of revocation or nonrenewal that states the grounds for such action with reasonable specificity and hold a public hearing regarding the issues. At such hearing, it requires the authorizer to present evidence supporting the revocation or nonrenewal and give the charter school reasonable opportunity to offer testimony before taking action in a public meeting. The law allows charter schools to appeal non-renewal or revocation decision to the state appeals board, which can order the local school board to rescind its revocation or nonrenewal decision.

Although authorizers are not required to have closure protocols, statute contains detailed school closure processes, including special provisions for virtual schools, which must be followed in the case of nonrenewal or termination of a charter school.

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9A. Authorizer must issue school performance renewal reports to schools whose charter will expire the following year.

9B. Schools seeking renewal must apply for it.

9C. Authorizers must issue renewal application guidance that provides an opportunity for schools to augment their performance record and discuss improvements and future plans.

9D. Clear criteria for renewal and nonrenewal/revocation.

9E. Authorizers must ground renewal decisions based on evidence regarding the school’s performance over the term of the charter contract (in accordance with the performance framework set forth in the charter contract).

9F. Authorizer authority to vary length of charter renewal contract terms based on performance or other issues.

9G. Authorizers must provide charter schools with timely notification of potential revocation or non-renewal (including reasons) and reasonable time to respond.

9H. Authorizers must provide charter schools with due process for nonrenewal and revocation decisions (e.g., public hearing, submission of evidence).

9I. All charter renewal, non-renewal, and revocation decisions made in a public meeting, with authorizers stating reasons for non-renewals and revocations in writing.

9J. Authorizers must have school closure protocols to ensure timely parent notification, orderly student and record transitions, and property and asset disposition.

10. Educational Service Providers (ESPs) Allowed

weight = 2 | Possible total = 8

Pennsylvania law is silent regarding educational service providers, and thus there is no explicit statutes requiring that authorizers review and approve educational service provider arrangements and that charter school boards be independent of educational service providers. However, case law exists which requires a fully executed management agreement to be submitted with an application if the charter school is going to use a management company.

The law's only conflict of interest provision states that an administrator in a school cannot receive compensation from a company that provides management or other services to another charter school. In addition, statute makes it clear that any administrator and trustee are public officials and subject to ethics standards and financial disclosure.

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10A. All types of educational service providers (both for-profit and non-profit) explicitly allowed to operate all or parts of schools.

10B. The charter application requires 1) performance data for all current and past schools operated by the ESP, including documentation of academic achievement and (if applicable) school management success; and 2) explanation and evidence of the ESP’s capacity for successful growth while maintaining quality in existing schools.

10C. A performance contract is required between the independent public charter school board and the ESP, setting forth material terms including but not limited to: performance evaluation measures; methods of contract oversight and enforcement by the charter school board; compensation structure and all fees to be paid to the ESP; and conditions for contract renewal and termination.

10D. The material terms of the ESP performance contract must be approved by the authorizer prior to charter approval.

10E. School governing boards operating as entities completely independent of any educational service provider (e.g., must retain independent oversight authority of their charter schools, and cannot give away their authority via contract).

10F. Existing and potential conflicts of interest between the two entities are required to be disclosed and explained in the charter application.

11. Fiscally and Legally Autonomous Schools with Independent Public Charter School Boards

weight = 3 | Possible total = 12

Pennsylvania law provides that charter schools must be organized as public nonprofit corporations with statutory authority as a body corporate to, for example, sue and be sued and acquire property and with trustees of a charter school being public officials.

Pennsylvania law provides that charter school boards of trustees have authority over budgetary and employee issues, although statute provides that every charter school employee must be provided the same health care benefits as employees of the local district.

Statute notes that no member of a local governing board may serve on the board of trustees of a charter school in that district.

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11A. Fiscally autonomous schools (e.g., schools have clear statutory authority to receive and disburse funds, incur debt, and pledge, assign or encumber assets as collateral).

11B. Legally autonomous schools (e.g., schools have clear statutory authority to enter into contracts and leases, sue and be sued in their own names, and acquire real property).

11C. School governing boards created specifically to govern their charter schools.

12. Clear Student Recruitment, Enrollment, and Lottery Procedures

weight = 2 | Possible total = 8

Pennsylvania law requires charter schools to be open to all students in the state, but requires them to give first preference to students who reside in the sponsoring school district or districts.

Pennsylvania law requires charter schools to select students on a random basis if more students apply than are slots available.

Pennsylvania law allows charter schools to give preference to siblings of students presently enrolled in the school and a child whose parent was an active participant in the development of the school, but no maximum percentage of the latter category of students is provided.

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12A. Open enrollment to any student in the state.

12B. Lottery requirements.

12C. Required enrollment preferences for previously enrolled students within conversions, prior year students within chartered schools, siblings of enrolled students enrolled at a charter school.

12D. Optional enrollment preference for children of a school’s founders, governing board members, and full-time employees, not exceeding 10% of the school’s total student population.

13. Automatic Exemptions from Many State and District Laws and Regulations

weight = 3 | Possible total = 12

Pennsylvania law provides an automatic waiver from most state and school district education laws, regulations, and policies, except for those that directly apply to charter schools.

Pennsylvania law allows up to 25% of a charter school’s teachers to be non-certified.

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13A. Exemptions from all laws, except those covering health, safety, civil rights, student accountability, employee criminal history checks, open meetings, freedom of information, and generally accepted accounting principles.

13B. Exemption from state teacher certification requirements.

14. Automatic Collective Bargaining Exemption

weight = 3 | Possible total = 12

Pennsylvania law provides that a charter school’s teachers may work independently or bargain collectively (but not as part of the school district’s collective bargaining unit).

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14A. Charter schools authorized by non-local board authorizers are exempt from participation in any outside collective bargaining agreements.

14B. Charter schools authorized by local boards are exempt from participation in any district collective bargaining agreements.

15. Multischool Charter Contracts and/or Multicharter Contract Boards Allowed

weight = 2 | Possible total = 8

Pennsylvania law requires that each charter school have its own separate charter contract and its own board of trustees and therefore prohibits these arrangements.

0

15A. Oversee multiple schools linked under a single contract with independent fiscal and academic accountability for each school.

15B. Hold multiple charter contracts with independent fiscal and academic accountability for each school.

16. Extracurricular and Interscholastic Activities Eligibility and Access

weight = 1 | Possible total = 4

Pennsylvania law provides that no district can deny the participation of charter school students in extra-curricular activities if such students can fulfill participation requirements and the charter school does not offer those activities. It also requires charter applications to detail any agreement with local districts regarding a student’s participation in extra-curricular activities.

The law does not explicitly state that charter school students and employees are eligible to participate in all interscholastic leagues, competitions, awards, scholarships, and recognition programs available to non-charter public school students and employees.

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16A. Laws or regulations explicitly state that charter school students and employees are eligible to participate in all interscholastic leagues, competitions, awards, scholarships, and recognition programs available to non-charter public school students and employees.

16B. Laws or regulations explicitly allow charter school students in schools not providing extra-curricular and interscholastic activities to have access to those activities at non-charter public schools for a fee by a mutual agreement.

17. Clear Identification of Special Education Responsibilities

weight = 2 | Possible total = 8

Pennsylvania law provides that charter schools are considered an LEA for the purposes of special education and that per-pupil special education funds flow from the LEA of residence to the charter school, based on the district’s average per-pupil expenditure per special education student the prior year.

Pennsylvania law allows charter schools to request the intermediate unit to assist in providing special-needs services at a cost no more than that charged for school district students. It also provides a contingency fund to which charter schools and schools districts can apply for exceptional circumstances funding.

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17A. Clarity regarding which entity is the local education agency (LEA) responsible for providing special education services.

17B. Clarity regarding funding for low-incident, high-cost services for charter schools (in the same amount and/or in a manner similar to other LEAs).

18. Equitable Operational Funding and Equal Access to All State and Federal Categorical Funding

weight = 4 | Possible total = 16

Pennsylvania law provides that relevant funding is to follow students, based on the average school district per-pupil budgeted expenditure of the previous year, not including any capital or debt service expenditures. For regional charter schools and nonresident students, the law provides that funds must come from the school district of a student’s residence. In practice, the amount received is not necessarily equitable, depending upon the calculations of the district.

Pennsylvania law provides that state subsidy funds flow through the district to the school via 12 equal monthly payments, with the state secretary of education able to automatically divert funds to charter schools from districts not paying on time, although there are no penalties for districts who delay such payments.

Pennsylvania law provides that federal funds for categorical programs go directly to the charter schools, although there are still some categorical grants structured only for school district eligibility (not LEA eligibility).

Pennsylvania law provides that districts must provide transportation to resident students enrolled in a charter school located within 10 miles outside district boundaries or enrolled in a regional charter school of which their school district is a part. The law also provides that if a school district does not provide the required transportation, the state department of education is authorized to deduct the expenses from the school district and pay it to the charter.

In a national study of charter school funding (Charter School Funding: Inequity Persists, 2010), Pennsylvania charter schools were receiving on average $10,230 per pupil, while traditional public schools would have received $12,896 for those students. As a result, the state's charter schools were receiving $2,666 per pupil - or 20.7% - less than what the traditional public schools would have received for those students. This figure includes all sources of funding, and analysis reveals significant continued inequities for both operational and capital funding (see component #19 for information on capital issues).

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18A. Equitable operational funding statutorily driven.

18B. Equal access to all applicable categorical federal and state funding, and clear guidance on the pass-through of such funds.

18C. Funding for transportation similar to school districts.

19. Equitable Access to Capital Funding and Facilities

weight = 4 | Possible total = 16

Pennsylvania law provides that the state department of education must calculate an approved reimbursable rental charge for leases of buildings or portion of buildings for charter school use which have been approved by the state secretary of education on or after July 1, 2001. It provides that this charge is the lesser of the annual rent payable under the provision of the approved lease agreement or the product of the enrollment times $160 for elementary schools, $220 for secondary schools, or $270 for area vocational-technical schools.

Pennsylvania law allows charter schools to apply for tax-exempt financing through the State Public School Building Authority, but its bond intercept law does not include them (which would enhance credit ratings for charters).

Pennsylvania law provides that charter school facilities are exempt from public school facility regulations except those pertaining to the health or safety of the pupils.

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19A. A per-pupil facilities allowance which annually reflects actual average district capital costs.

19B. A state grant program for charter school facilities.

19C. A state loan program for charter school facilities.

19D. Equal access to tax-exempt bonding authorities or allow charter schools to have their own bonding authority.

19E. A mechanism to provide credit enhancement for public charter school facilities.

19F. Equal access to existing state facilities programs available to non-charter public schools.

19G. Right of first refusal to purchase or lease at or below fair market value a closed, unused, or underused public school facility or property.

19H. Prohibition of facility-related requirements stricter than those applied to traditional public schools.

20. Access to Relevant Employee Retirement Systems

weight = 2 | Possible total = 8

Pennsylvania law provides that all charter school employees must participate in the state retirement systems unless at the time of application, the charter school has a retirement program that covers the employees or the employee is currently enrolled in another retirement program.

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20A. Charter schools have access to relevant state retirement systems available to other public schools.

20B. Charter schools have the option to participate (i.e., not required).