In order to understand why charter schools have such a profound impact on public education funding in Pennsylvania, the first step is to learn more about charter schools and how they work. Explore the questions below for background information on charter schools and how they operate.

Charter schools are public schools that are authorized to operate independently from traditional public schools.

According to the Charter School Law, charter schools were created to:

  • Improve student learning;
  • Increase educational opportunities for students;
  • Encourage the use of different and innovative teaching methods;
  • Create new professional opportunities for teachers; and
  • Provide expanded choices within the public school system.

To give charter schools the independence to achieve these purposes, charter schools are exempt from many of the mandates governing traditional public schools. See “How are charter schools different from traditional public schools?” below for more information on these exemptions.

There are two general types of charter schools operating in Pennsylvania – brick-and-mortar charter schools and cyber charter schools. The two types of charter schools differ in terms of how they are authorized and the method of instruction used.


*This includes regional charter schools which are authorized by more than one local school board.

A charter school may be established by an individual; any nonsectarian college or university located in PA; or any nonprofit, nonsectarian corporation, association or partnership.

Pennsylvania’s Charter School Law was adopted in 1997 to authorize the creation of brick-and-mortar charter schools. The law was amended in 2002 to authorize the creation of cyber charter schools.

Since the Charter School Law was enacted, no substantial updates have been made to address the significant issues that school districts, charter schools, parents, policymakers, and taxpayers have encountered in the 23+ years since enactment.

There were 163 brick-and-mortar charter schools and 14 cyber charter schools operating in Pennsylvania during the 2020-21 school year educating more than 169,000 students.

The map below shows:

  1. The location of each brick-and-mortar charter school.
  2. School district boundaries.
  3. County boundaries.

Turn filters on or off and zoom in for more detail. For example, to see information at the county level, ensure the school district filters are turned off.

School districts are required by law to make a tuition payment to a charter school or cyber charter school for every student residing in the school district, who enrolls in the charter school or cyber charter school. In 2019-20, nearly 90% of charter school funding (from state, local and federal sources) came from mandatory tuition payments from school districts.

Although charter schools are considered public schools, they are exempt from many of the state’s statutory and regulatory mandates required for traditional public school systems. These exemptions include:


For a more complete list of the differences between charter school and traditional public schools, see the complete comparison.

 

Charter schools are governed by privately managed boards of trustees that vary in number and who may set their own rules of operation. Charter trustees may have little or no connection to or accountability to the taxpayers in the communities whose students they serve and may sit on multiple charter boards.

Some charter schools are managed by employees directly appointed and supervised by the board of trustees. However, many charter school boards outsource all aspects of charter school’s management and operation to an education management organization (EMO).

EMOs are for-profit corporations that, for all intents and purposes, operate the charter school. A typical arrangement is that the EMO accepts the per student tuition payment as compensation for its services. If the EMO can operate at a lower cost, the difference is profit for the EMO.

In some cases, a for-profit EMO can help create the nonprofit organization, which applies for and opens a charter school. Then, that charter school contracts with the EMO to provide services to the school.

While charter schools must be established as nonprofit entities, contracting with an EMO allows a for-profit entity to operate in the background and outside of public view. Because an EMO is not subject to public transparency and accountability laws, taxpayers are unable to know how public money is being spent.

For-profit EMOs operate in numerous states. The Washington Post recently posted a story about how a few of these EMOs operate in Pennsylvania.

The Charter School Appeal Board (CAB) has the exclusive review of a decision by a local school board to deny a charter application and of a decision by a local school board to not renew or revoke a charter. CAB also has the exclusive review of a decision by the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) to deny a cyber charter application and of a decision by PDE to not renew or revoke a cyber charter.

In addition, CAB has the exclusive review of a direct appeal filed by a charter applicant when the local school board fails to hold a public hearing or timely act on a charter application and of a direct appeal filed by a cyber charter applicant when PDE fails to hold a public hearing or timely act on a cyber charter application.

More information 

Who serves on the Charter School Appeal Board?

The CAB consists of the Secretary of Education and six members who are appointed by the Governor with the consent of a majority of all the Senate members. The members include a parent of a school-aged child, a school board member, a certified teacher actively employed in a public school, a faculty member or administrative employee of a higher education institution, a member of the business community, and a member of the State Board of Education.  PDE provides assistance and staffing, and the Governor’s General Counsel provides legal advice and assistance to CAB. 

More information

Who are the current members of the Charter Appeal Board?

  • Noe Ortega, Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Education
    Noe Ortega was nominated to serve as Secretary of Education in October 2020 and confirmed by the Senate on June 22, 2021. Prior to his nomination, he had served as the Deputy Secretary and Commissioner for the Office of Postsecondary and Higher Education (OPHE) at the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE). As commissioner for higher education, he led the work of the agency aimed at closing the postsecondary attainment gaps that have persisted among historically underrepresented populations and communities of color in Pennsylvania. Additionally, Mr. Ortega facilitated the efforts of the department to improve the diversity of Pennsylvania’s educator workforce and to ensure that every student of the Commonwealth has access to educators who have been trained in culturally responsive and culturally relevant approaches to teaching and learning in the classroom. Read more >
  • As of July 14, 2021 the member of the State Board of Education has not been designated yet.
  • The seat designated for a faculty member or administrative employee of a higher education institution is presently vacant.

More information 

Who are the four new appointees?

  • Jennifer Faustman, CEO, Belmont Charter Schools in Philadelphia
    Appointed: June 25, 2021 – Expires: June 14, 2025
    Jennifer Faustman is CEO of Belmont Charter Schools in Philadelphia, where she has worked since 2008.  Jennifer graduated with a Bachelor’s in Labor and Industrial Relations from Penn State University in 1998. She went on to work in Human Resources and Investor Relations in the Financial Services industry prior to committing her career to the non-profit world.

    She would fill the seat designated for a parent of a school-aged child; she has two children enrolled in the Haverford School District.
  • Jodi Schwartz, School Director, Central Bucks School District
    Appointed: June 25, 2021 – Expires: June 14, 2025
    Jodi Schwartz is the Region 7 representative on the Central Bucks School District school board in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Schwartz won a first term on the school board in November 2017, expiring in 2021. Central Bucks is the third largest school district in Pennsylvania with over 18,000 students and 4 high schools.

    She would fill the seat designated for a school board member.
  • Dr. Stacey Marten, public school teacher, Hempfield School District.
    Appointed: June 25, 2021 – Expires: June 14, 2025
    Dr. Stacey Marten is a Math Teacher at Centerville Middle School in the Hempfield School District, Lancaster County. She has taught in the district for 17 years.

    She served on the Hempfield School Board for eight years previously, ending her service with a three-year run as board president from 2012-15.

    She is also listed as a member of the Pennsylvania Professional Standards and Practices Commission (appointed by the Governor).

    She would fill the seat reserved for a certified teacher actively employed in a public school.
  • Tom Killion, former Republican state senator
    Appointed: June 25, 2021 – Expires: June 14, 2025
    Tom Killion was a member of the Pennsylvania State Senate for the 9th Senatorial District (Delaware County) from 2016 until 2020. He previously served as a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives for the 168th district (Delaware County) from 2003 to 2016. He was elected as a member of Delaware County Council in 1991 and served from 1992 to 2000 including as Chairman.  He was born in Philadelphia and graduated from Cardinal O’Hara High School in 1975. He received a B.S. in criminal justice from the Pennsylvania State University in 1979. His professional experience includes his working as a Stockbroker, as the Founder/Partner of InR Advisors Incorporated and as a fraud investigator for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of the Treasury.

    He would fill the seat reserved for a member of the business community.