It’s Good to be the King (of Charter Schools)

Good to be the KingWe blogged last month about HB 1973, a bill that would gut funding for cyber schools.  Now it turns out there’s a bill—recently introduced to the House Education Committee—that goes even further: It would amend public school law and impose more damaging, needless regulation on all charter schools.

Perhaps the most bizarre proposed change is one found on page 2, dealing with how appeal boards review local boards’ decisions to issue or deny a charter (the original language is in brackets; the proposed language is underlined):

The appeal board shall [give due consideration to the findings of the local board of directors] use an arbitrary and capricious standard to review the decision of the local board of school directors

An “arbitrary and capricious standard”?  Seriously?  Are we in pre-Revolutionary France?

Read the rest of HB 2220, however, and “arbitrary and capricious” fittingly describes the proposed changes. Like HB 1973, the bill limits schools’ fund balances, the reserves they accumulate to meet operating expenses and which cover lags in funding, to a maximum of 12 percent of spending.  Some lawmakers think this will make charters more like school districts—only they have been duped by an education establishment myth.  As of July 2010, 143 school districts had undesignated fund balances exceeding that threshold.   The only limit on school district funds is tied to new borrowing.  Collectively, school districts had $2.8 billion in reserved funds following the 2009-10 school year.

The bill also outlaws advertising, though cyber and charter schools need to let communities know they exist.  Such measures would cover all charter schools, not just cybers.  And school districts face no such restriction.

Additionally, school districts would not have to pay cyber schools for “resident students” who attend them if the school districts offer cyber programs. That limits families’ ability to use public education dollars at the school of their choice, forcing them into their school district’s program if they want a cyber education at all.  This bill effectively says that rather than funding children’s education, tax dollars should be used to protect the status quo.

We’ve reported before how cyber and charter schools must meet accountability standards required of regular public schools, plus more. Overall, HB 2220 seeks to hamstring charter and cyber schools and diminish school choice, ensuring traditional public schools not only stay on top of Pennsylvania’s education system, but rule over publicly funded charter schools, too. But hey—it’s good to be the king.