Opinion: It is long past time for the Pennsylvania Legislature to pass charter reform

Reading Eagle by Bernie O’Neill and Eugene Depasquale, January 18, 2022

Two former elected officials, a Republican and Democrat, join forces on education issue.

Bernie O’Neill, a Republican, is a former special education teacher and state representative. Eugene DePasquale, a Democrat, is a former state auditor general and state representative.

Our roles as former elected officials from both of the major political parties have given us unique perspectives into not only Pennsylvania’s political process, but also its public education system, particularly charter schools. Charter schools in the state have grown tremendously in the 24+ years in which they have existed. It is estimated that nearly 170,000 children will attend a brick-and-mortar or cyber charter school in the current school year and that Pennsylvania taxpayers will spend an estimated $3 billion to fund charter schools. Despite being in operation for more than two decades, Pennsylvania’s Charter School Law, or CSL, has never undergone any significant revision, other than allowing the creation of cyber charter schools in 2002, even though there are numerous glaring problems with the law. That’s not because the General Assembly hasn’t studied and introduced a myriad of legislative proposals each year to enact meaningful reforms. However, the state’s legislative body seems to be unwilling or unable to fix the problems. Reforming the CSL should be a bipartisan issue. At its core, charter school reform would 1) ensure that public education funds are spent efficiently and appropriately; 2) that charter schools are as accountable and transparent as other public schools; and 3) preserve and strengthen educational choice by bolstering the law to ensure only quality charter school options are available to students and families.

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