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Pa. Charter Schools Disregard State's Right-To-Know Law, State Office Says

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Many charter schools in Pennsylvania are not complying with the state's right-to-know law, which requires them to disclose certain information to the public, says the leader of the state's office of open records, according to an article on Philly.com.

Terry Mutchler, the executive director of the Office of Open Records, said her office has received 239 appeals after charter schools have failed to answer requests from the public for budget, payroll, or student roster information, says the article. Those schools could be brought to court and potentially fined, said Mutchler, but the office does not currently have adequate funding to pursue the widespread problem.

Ken Kilpatrick, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools told Philly.com that it was the first he had heard of the concerns.

The right-to-know law, which requires state-related institutions to disclose certain records and information to the public, was passed in 2008 and took effect on January 1, 2009. The law moved the burden of proof from citizens requesting public information to government agencies that want to withhold certain records. The Office of Open Records seeks to enforce and implement that law.

There is currently legislation forming in the state Senate's government committee that could provide revisions to the 5-year-old law. Debates about the revisions are what initially shed light on the charter school failures to comply, which Mutchler called "a cancer on the otherwise healthy right-to-know law."

Charters are public schools, funded with taxpayer dollars, that traditionally are overseen by entities other than school districts and operate with varying degrees of autonomy from them. There are currently about 175 charter schools operating in Pennsylvania, educating about 118,000 students. Charters make up about 6 percent of the student population in that state.

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