Gov. Wolf Attacks Charters with 11 Executive Actions

Earlier this summer, Gov. Wolf vetoed an expansion of tax credit scholarships that would have empowered thousands of Pennsylvania students. Now, he’s turned his attention to charter schools.

The Governor has proposed a controversial series of executive actions aimed at cutting the funds and enrollment of Pennsylvania charter schools. This despite the vital service charters provide to low-income families, especially in Philadelphia, where charters are the only affordable alternative to failing schools.

It’s worth noting that of 16 bulleted items in Wolf's proposal, 11 are executive actions, while only five require legislation. Click here for the full list.

Gov. Wolf’s plan boils down to three key impacts:

  1. Allowing school districts to limit charter enrollment. This executive action is misguided given extensive charter school waiting lists. For example, charter applications outnumber open seats 150-to-1 in some instances. And we know 49,000 tax credit scholarship applications were denied 2017. Wolf's proposed enrollment limit is also illegal under Pennsylvania law:

Enrollment of students in a charter school or cyber charter school shall not be subject to a cap or otherwise limited by any past or future action of a board of school directors, a board of control established under Article XVII-B, a special board of control established under section 692 or any other governing authority, unless agreed to by the charter school or cyber charter school as part of a written charter pursuant to section 1720-A.

  1. Cutting charter funding. There’s no other way to put it: Gov. Wolf is treating charter students as second-class citizens. He wants additional funding for conventional district schools on the one hand, while calling for funding cuts to charter schools on the other. Charter schools already receive only around 72% of the per pupil funding that district schools receive. If anything, charter students deserve more support, not less.

    Two of Wolf’s dubious executive actions are a fee-for-service model requiring charter schools to pay for services provided by the Department of Education. In contrast, conventional district schools do not pay for services provided by the department.

  2. Placing a moratorium on new cyber charter schools. This legislation would completely disregard the preferences of parents, who are increasingly choosing cyber charters for their kids. Cyber charter school enrollment has increased by nearly 10,000 students over the past ten years, while local district enrollment has declined by over 120,000.

The Governor’s stated purpose is “to Ensure Charter Schools Better Serve Students and Taxpayers.” None of his proposed actions improves educational quality for charter students.

The Governor says he wants to “hold charter schools and their operators to the same standards as our traditional public schools.” But that’s not true: the Governor’s plan offers preferential treatment to local districts while discriminating against charter-school families.

Under the guise of oversight and accountability, Gov. Wolf’s proposal shifts educational decisions away from families toward school district administrators—who have a vested interest in blocking charter expansion.