Pennsylvania

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Pennsylvania

1997
Year Charter School Law Was Enacted
183
Estimated Number of Charter Schools in 2016-17
138,400
Estimated Number of Charter School Students in 2016-17
131
out of
240
Total Score

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While Pennsylvania’s law does not contain a cap on charter public school growth and provides adequate autonomy to charter schools, it primarily allows local school district authorizers and provides insufficient accountability and inadequate funding to charter schools.

Pennsylvania’s law needs improvement in several areas, including prohibiting district-mandated restrictions on growth, expanding authorizer options, ensuring authorizer accountability, providing authorizer funding, beefing up the law in relation to the model law’s four quality-control components (Components 6 through 9), allowing multischool charter contracts or multicontract governing boards, ensuring equitable operational funding and equitable access to capital funding and facilities, ensuring transparency regarding educational service providers, and strengthening accountability for full-time virtual charter schools.

Component Scores

Are there caps on the growth of charter schools in this state?

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

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
No
1A
No numeric or geographic limits are placed on the number of charter public schools or students.
Yes
1B
If caps exist, there is room for growth.

Are a variety of charter schools allowed?

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

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
2A
New startups.
Yes
2B
Public school conversions.

Are non-district authorizers available to which charter applicants may directly apply?

Pennsylvania law provides the following potential authorizers: local school boards, two or more local school 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.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Some
3A
The state allows an applicant anywhere in the state to apply directly to a non-district authorizer(s).

Is an authorizer and overall program accountability system required?

Pennsylvania law includes a small number of the model law's provisions for authorizer and overall program accountability.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).

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
No
4A
Registration process for school boards to affirm their interest in authorizing.
N/A
4B
Application process for other eligible authorizing entities (except a state charter schools commission).
No
4C
Authorizer submission of annual report.
Some
4D
The ability for the state to conduct a review of an authorizer’s performance.
Some
4E
The ability for the state to sanction an authorizer for poor performance, including suspending an authorizer’s authority to approve new schools.
No
4F
Periodic formal evaluation of overall state charter school program and outcomes.

Is there adequate authorizer funding?

Pennsylvania law does not include any of the model law's provisions for adequate authorizer funding.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
No
5A
A uniform statewide formula that guarantees annual authorizer funding that is not subject to annual legislative appropriations.
No
5B
Requirement to publicly report detailed authorizer expenditures.
No
5C
Separate contract for any services purchased from an authorizer by a school.
No
5D
Prohibition on authorizers requiring schools to purchase services from them.

Are there transparent charter application, review, and decisionmaking processes?

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

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, the 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 charter 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.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
6A
Application elements for all schools.
Yes
6B
Additional application elements specific to conversion schools.
Some
6C
Additional application elements specific to using educational service providers.
No
6D
Additional application elements specific to replications.
Some
6E
Requirement for thorough evaluation of each application, including an in-person interview and a public meeting.
Some
6F
Application approval criteria.
Yes
6G
All charter approval or denial decisions made in a public meeting with authorizers stating reasons for denials in writing.

Are performance-based charter contracts required?

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 require that the written charter also include the responsibilities of the authorizer. Statute also only generally mentions the need for “performance standards set forth in the written charter” within the revocation section instead of requiring that the written charter define 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.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
7A
Being created as a separate document from the application and executed by the governing board of the charter school and the authorizer.
Some
7B
Defining the roles, powers, and responsibilities for the school and its authorizer.
No
7C
Defining academic, financial, and operational performance expectations by which the school will be judged based on a performance framework.
Some
7D
Providing an initial term of five operating years.

Are there comprehensive charter school monitoring and data collection processes?

The law 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. 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. It also requires charter schools to submit an annual financial report detailing revenues and expenditures.

The law specifies that authorizers have ongoing access to the records and facilities of their charter schools to ensure compliance.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
8A
Required annual school performance reports.
Yes
8B
Financial accountability for charter schools (e.g., generally accepted accounting principles, independent annual audit reported to authorizer).
Yes
8C
Authorizer authority to conduct oversight activities.
No
8D
Authorizer notification to its schools of perceived problems, with opportunities to remedy such problems.
No
8E
Authorizer authority to take appropriate corrective actions or exercise sanctions short of revocation.
No
8F
Authorizer may not request duplicative data submission from its charter schools and may not use performance framework to create cumbersome reporting requirements.

Are there clear processes for renewal, nonrenewal, and revocation decisions?

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 a charter for material violations of the statute or the charter as well as failure to meet state requirements for student performance or any performance standard set forth in the charter.

In most districts, the law provides for five-year renewals. It also allows authorizers that are school districts of the first class (Philadelphia) 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 a 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 which must be followed in the case of nonrenewal or termination of a charter school.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
No
9A
Authorizer must issue school performance renewal reports to schools whose charter will expire the following year.
Yes
9B
Schools seeking renewal must apply for it.
No
9C
Authorizers must issue renewal application guidance that provides an opportunity for schools to augment their performance record and discuss improvements and future plans.
No
9D
Ability to have a differentiated process for renewal of high-performing charter schools.
Yes
9E
Authorizers must use clear criteria for renewal and nonrenewal/revocation.
Yes
9F
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.
No
9G
Requirement that authorizers close chronically low-performing charter schools unless exceptional circumstances exist.
Some
9H
Authorizers must have the authority to vary length of charter renewal contract terms based on performance or other issues.
Yes
9I
Authorizers must provide charter schools with timely notification of potential revocation or nonrenewal (including reasons) and reasonable time to respond.
Yes
9J
Authorizers must provide charter schools with due process for nonrenewal and revocation decisions (e.g., public hearing, submission of evidence).
Yes
9K
All charter renewal, nonrenewal, and revocation decisions must be made in a public meeting, with authorizers stating reasons for nonrenewals and revocations in writing.
Some
9L
Authorizers must have school closure protocols to ensure timely parent notification, orderly student and record transitions, and property and asset disposition.
No
9M
Any transfer of charter contracts from one authorizer to another are only allowed if they are approved by the state.

Is there transparency regarding educational service providers?

Pennsylvania law includes a small number of provisions regarding educational service providers. While there are no explicit statutes requiring that authorizers review and approve educational service provider arrangements and that charter school boards be independent of educational service providers, charter school governing boards contract with educational service providers in practice and 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.

State board polices regarding cyber charter schools state that the boards of such schools may contract with an ESP, but must maintain ultimate control of the cyber charter school.

Pennsylvania law requires that all applicants for employment in public and private schools, employees of independent contractors seeking business with public and private schools, and student teacher candidates undergo background checks if they will have direct contact with students.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
10A
All types of educational service providers (both for-profit and nonprofit) are allowed to operate all or parts of schools.
No
10B
The charter application requires (1) performance data for all current and past schools operated by the ESP, and (2) explanation and evidence of the ESP’s capacity for successful growth while maintaining quality in existing schools.
Some
10C
A performance contract is required between the independent charter school board and the ESP, with such contract approved by the school’s authorizer.
Some
10D
School governing boards operate as entities completely independent of any ESP, individuals compensated by an ESP are prohibited from serving as voting members on such boards, and existing and potential conflicts of interest between the two entities are required to be disclosed and explained in the charter application.
No
10E
Provides that charter school governing boards must have access to ESP records necessary to oversee the ESP contract.
No
10F
An ESP must annually provide information to its charter school governing board on how that ESP spends public funding it receives when the ESP is performing a public function under applicable state law.
Yes
10G
Requires that similar criminal history record checks and fingerprinting requirements applicable to other public schools shall also be mandatory for on-site employees of ESPs who regularly come into contact with students.

Are the schools fiscally and legally autonomous with independent charter school boards?

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.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
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).
Yes
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).
Yes
11C
Independent school governing boards created specifically to govern their charter schools.

Are there clear student enrollment and lottery procedures?

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. The law states that a charter school shall not unlawfully discriminate in admissions, hiring or operation.
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. It also allows charter schools to give preference to a child whose parent was an active participant in the development of the school.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
12A
Open enrollment to any student in the state.
Yes
12B
Anti-discrimination provisions regarding admissions.
No
12C
Required enrollment preferences for previously enrolled students within conversions and for prior-year students within charter schools.
Yes
12D
Lottery requirements.

Is there automatic exemption from many state and district laws and regulations?

Pennsylvania law requires charter schools to conform to the same laws and regulations as school districts with some exceptions.
Pennsylvania law allows up to 25% of a charter school’s teachers to be non-certified.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Some
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.
Some
13B
Exemption from state teacher certification requirements.

Is there an automatic collective bargaining exemption?

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).

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
14A
Charter schools authorized by nonlocal board authorizers are exempt from participation in any outside collective bargaining agreements.
Yes
14B
Charter schools authorized by local boards are exempt from participation in any district collective bargaining agreements.

Are multischool charter contracts and/or multicharter contract boards allowed?

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

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
No
15A
Oversee multiple schools linked under a single contract with independent fiscal and academic accountability for each school.
No
15B
Hold multiple charter contracts with independent fiscal and academic accountability for each school.

Is there eligibility and access to extracurricular and interscholastic activities?

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.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
No
16A
Laws or regulations explicitly state that charter school students and employees are eligible to participate in all extracurricular and interscholastic activities available to noncharter public school students and employees.
Yes
16B
Laws or regulations explicitly allow charter school students in schools not providing extracurricular and interscholastic activities to have access to those activities at noncharter public schools.

Is there clear identification of special education responsibilities?

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 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 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.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
17A
Clarity regarding which entity is the local education agency (LEA) responsible for providing special education services.
Yes
17B
Clarity regarding the flow of federal, state, and local special education funds to the designated LEA.
Yes
17C
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).
Yes
17D
Clarity that charter schools have access to all regional and state services and supports available to traditional districts.

Is there equitable operational funding and equal access to all state and federal categorical funding?

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 that 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 (University of Arkansas, Charter School Funding: Inequity Expands, 2014), Pennsylvania charter schools were receiving on average $12,175 per pupil in public funds, while traditional public schools would have received $17,989 for those students. As a result, the state's charter schools were receiving $5,814 per pupil - or 32.3% - 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).

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
No
18A
Equitable operational funding statutorily driven.
Some
18B
Equal access to all applicable categorical federal and state funding and clear guidance on the pass-through of such funds.
Yes
18C
Funding for transportation similar to school districts.
No
18D
Annual report offering district and charter school funding comparisons and including annual recommendations to the legislature for any needed equity enhancements.

Is there equitable access to capital funding and facilities?

Pennsylvania law provides that the state department of education must calculate an approved reimbursable rental charge for leases of buildings or portions 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. However, these figures are discounted to 50% or the market value aid ratio, whichever is higher.
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.
The law states that all school property, real and personal, owned by any charter school, cyber charter school or an associated nonprofit foundation, or owned by a nonprofit corporation or nonprofit foundation and leased to a charter school, cyber charter school or associated nonprofit foundation at or below fair market value, that is occupied and used by any charter school or cyber charter school for public school, recreation or any other purposes provided for by this act, shall be made exempt from every kind of State, county, city, borough, township or other real estate tax.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Facilities Funding
Some
19A
A per-pupil facilities allowance that annually reflects actual average district capital costs.
No
19B
A state grant program for charter school facilities.
No
19C
Equal access to existing state facilities programs available to noncharter public schools.
Access to Public Space
No
19D
A requirement for districts to provide school district space or funding to charter schools if the majority of that schools’ students reside in that district.
No
19E
Right of first refusal to purchase or lease at or below fair market value a closed, unused, or underused public school facility or property.
Access to Financing Tools
No
19F
A state loan program for charter school facilities.
Some
19G
Equal access to tax-exempt bonding authorities or allowing charter schools to have their own bonding authority
No
19H
Pledging the moral obligation of the state to help charter schools obtain more favorable bond financing terms.
No
19I
The creation and funding of a state charter school debt reserve fund.
No
19J
The inclusion of charter schools in school district bonding and mill levy requests.
No
19K
A mechanism to provide credit enhancement for charter school facilities.
Other
No
19L
Charter schools allowed to contract at or below fair market value with a school district, a college or university, or any other public or for-profit or nonprofit private entity for the use of facility for a school building.
No
19M
Certain entities allowed to provide space to charter schools within their facilities under their preexisting zoning and land use designations.
No
19N
Charter school facilities exempt from ad valorem taxes and other assessment fees not applicable to other public schools.

Is there access to relevant employee retirement systems?

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.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
20A
Charter schools have access to relevant state retirement systems available to other public schools.
Yes
20B
Charter schools have the option to participate (i.e., not required).

Are there provisions for full-time virtual charter schools?

Pennsylvania law includes a small number of the model law’s provisions regarding full-time virtual charter schools.
The law provides that cyber charter schools may only be authorized by the state department of education.

The law states that a charter school may establish reasonable criteria to evaluate prospective students, which shall be outlined in the school's charter.

Law requires applications for virtual charters to describe a number of additional elements specific to virtual learning, including the monitoring of attendance, provision of student and special education services, and assessment of student learning.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Some
21A
An authorizing structure whereby full-time virtual charter schools that serve students from more than one district may be approved only by an authorizer with statewide chartering jurisdiction and authority, full-time virtual charter schools that serve students from one school district may be authorized by that school district, and a cap is placed on the total amount of funding that an authorizer may withhold from a full-time virtual charter school.
Some
21B
Legally permissible criteria and processes for enrollment based on the existence of supports needed for student success.
No
21C
Enrollment level provisions that establish maximum enrollment levels for each year of a charter contract, with any increases in enrollment from one year to the next based on whether the school meets its performance requirements.
Yes
21D
Accountability provisions that include virtual-specific goals regarding student enrollment, attendance, engagement, achievement, truancy, and attrition.
No
21E
Funding levels per student based on costs proposed and justified by the operators.
No
21F
Performance-based funding whereby full-time virtual charter schools are funded via a performance-based funding system based on meeting the accountability performance provisions.