State Laws Pit Public School Districts against Charter Schools

Article excerpt

Gov. Tom Corbett has laid out a vision for public education in Pennsylvania in which schools compete to offer students the best chance at success.

But some educators complain that Pennsylvania's 500 school districts and 145 charter schools might not be playing on an even field.

Charter schools enjoy flexibility on regulations that public school districts just don't have, said Greensburg Salem Superintendent Tom Yarabinetz.

Lawmakers on the state Senate Education Committee introduced a bevy of mandate-relief bills this spring: proposals to loosen rules on construction and bidding, allow boards to furlough teachers for economic reasons and suspend continuing education for teachers.

"(Charters) are able to do things unconventionally, and that's why they thrive," said Secretary of Education Ronald Tomalis. "Too much, in public education, we're very comfortable with living in the structure that the rules and regulations tell us to live in."

In Pennsylvania, all public schools have the same testing and curriculum requirements, but differences were set out in the 1997 state law that governs the state's charter schools.

For charter schools, only three-quarters of teachers must be certified by the state. For districts, 100 percent must be certified. State certification is intended to prove teachers' qualifications, and the federal government uses it to determine whether a teacher is "highly qualified," as laid out in the No Child Left Behind Law.

With special-needs students, charter schools are not required to have specific plans for different kinds of learning disabilities, and they do not have to submit detailed special-education reports to the state.

District school construction must be approved by the state Department of Education in a time-consuming process called PlanCon. Charter schools cannot receive reimbursement, but the charter law exempts these schools from any facility regulations that do not pertain to health or safety.

Those differences are not what allow successful charter schools to thrive, said Jeremy Resnick, executive director and founder of Propel Schools, a charter chain in Allegheny County that has raised statewide test scores for disadvantaged students. …