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Advocates in Pa. Push for Charter Expansion

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The months leading up to elections aren't typically ripe for passing substantial legislation. But supporters of a charter school measure in Pennsylvania are looking for an exception.

This week, students, advocates, and others rallied at the state Capitol in Harrisburg to urge lawmakers to approve a proposal that, according to a recent version, would pave the way for expanding the state's charter school sector, while also setting new standards for their reporting and financial accountability.

Charter school legislation came close to passing earlier this year, but stalled out.

"We were literally two or three sentences away" from getting it done, said Robert Fayfich, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools, which is backing efforts to pass a measure this year.

The legislation being discussed appears to be in flux. A recent iteration would establish an independent statewide authorizer of the schools—as opposed to charters having to seek approval from local districts. A number of states have statewide authorizers, though the issue has also proved controversial in some places, such as Georgia, where a proposal to re-establish a statewide charter entity is the subject of a public referendum this fall. The Pennsylvania legislation would also allow for public funding to flow more directly from the state to charters schools. Additionally, the legislation would allow create a mechanism through which a regular public school could be converted to a charter school through a majority vote of parents and teachers—though that provision has been a major hang-up for the legislation to date, Fayfich noted.

The legislation would also put in place a number of requirements for performance, transparency, and financial accountability for charters. Several Pennsylvania charters, particularly in Philadelphia, have come under scrutiny for alleged financial or ethical breaches over the past year.

Pennsylvania lawmakers are supposed to wrap up their statehouse session before November's elections. So we'll know pretty soon whether the charter measure breaks through, or is tripped up again.

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