Pennsylvania House Passes Bill to Modernize Charter School Law, Enhancing Transparency and Accountability

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PENNSYLVANIA — In a bipartisan vote, the Pennsylvania House passed legislation Friday aimed at modernizing the state’s charter school law, with a specific focus on cyber charter schools. The bill, introduced by Rep. Joe Ciresi, seeks to promote transparency, accountability, and fiscal responsibility. Through this comprehensive reform, cyber charter schools will be held to the same standards as traditional public schools, ensuring taxpayer dollars are spent on education and not on unnecessary expenses. This legislation aims to benefit all students and taxpayers by addressing funding overpayments and increasing oversight.

“The vast majority of the commonwealth’s elected school boards have told legislators PA’s charter school law is in desperate need of reform,” Ciresi said. “Today we passed a comprehensive reform bill that holds cyber charter schools to the same standards we expect of anyone who receives public funds, including transparency, ethical standards and greater oversight of spending. By ending $455 million in overpayments and making sure that taxpayer dollars are being properly spent on their intended purpose – educating students – this reform bill will help all our students and taxpayers.”

In 2015, the General Assembly passed a law to create an education funding formula based on actual student enrollment and cost factors to address an outdated, flawed and inequitable system of funding school districts. However, the bill did not address cyber charter schools, which continue to receive the same funding as brick-and-mortar charter schools despite having materially lower costs, leading Ciresi to sponsor H.B. 1422 to address this issue.

Ciresi’s legislation would set a single statewide tuition rate for non-special education students at cyber schools that is better aligned to the actual cost of cyber education and applies the existing three-tier special education funding formula currently used for school districts, which sets funding based on the student’s special education needs, to cyber charter schools.

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The bill also would:

  • Require transparency in cyber charter advertising expenses and prohibits the use of taxpayer money for sponsorships of parades and professional sporting events.
  • Cap cyber charter school unassigned fund balances, which increased from $22 million in 2018-19 to $250 million in 2021-22.
  • Require wellness checks for students to ensure their well-being and to verify cyber school participation.
  • Set requirements for cyber charter schools and their management companies to have their records be open to the public, hold open meetings, and perform annual audits.
  • Prohibit taxpayer funding from being used to pay for field trips and gifts and incentives to enroll or consider enrolling in a cyber charter school.
  • Require cyber charter schools to demonstrate they are spending the additional money they are receiving for students with the highest special education needs on providing those special education services.
  • Allow cyber charter schools to use school district facilities for standardized testing and requires school districts to provide transportation for cyber special education students.

“My goal with this bill was to preserve school choice, but while ensuring cyber charter schools are held to the same rules and regulations as traditional public schools,” Ciresi said. “These reforms will make sure taxpayer dollars are being spent on educating students or returned to the taxpayers – and not spent on sponsoring professional sports teams, giving away Target gift cards, or growing fund balances. By making sure cyber charter schools operate openly and with proper oversight, we will help our students – regardless of what type of school they go to – and our taxpayers.”

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The bill now goes on to the Senate for consideration.

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