HARRISBURG (March 21, 2022) – Today the Independent Regulatory Review Commission (IRRC) voted 3 to 2 to approve the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s (PDE) Final-Form Regulation # 6-349: Charter Schools and Cyber Charter Schools. We knew this was a David versus Goliath battle and that the voting record of the IRRC was heavily in-favor of approving agency regulations.
Many voiced opposition to the regulation, both in the fall and most recently. PCPCS’ recent comments to IRRC can be found here. We opposed this regulation for many reasons and asked the IRRC to disapprove of the regulation based upon the criterion that IRRC uses to review proposed regulations: (1) Statutory Authority and Legislative Intent; (2) Economic Impact; (3) Public Welfare; and (4) Public Health and Safety.
Unfortunately, the IRRC concluded that this regulation is consistent with the statutory authority of the PDE, the intent of the General Assembly, and is in the public interest. We respectfully disagree with that conclusion.
While PCPCS recognizes that reform is needed to the Charter School Law (CSL), the vehicle for this reform must be through the democratic legislative process and this attempt to rule by regulation is unconstitutional. This action by the Wolf Administration to go-around the General Assembly and the legislative process to make law, is the culmination of his attacks on charter schools for the last eight years.
The will of the People of Pennsylvania is best reflected via the member officials they have elected in the General Assembly. Last week, both the Pennsylvania House and Senate Education Committees voted to send separate letters to this Commission, disapproving of the final-form regulation.
The IRRC meeting today, with statements from PDE, the legislative branch, and the public, lasted over three hours. Jennifer Arevalo, CEO and Director of Organizational Operations at Souderton Charter School Collaborative, presented remarks for the Coalition during the public speaking portion of the agenda. Other charter school leaders that presented, disapproving of the regulation, included Larry Jones, CEO of Richard Allen Preparatory Charter School, Dr. Tina Chekan, CEO/Superintendent of Propel Schools, and Toya Algarin of KIPP.
This regulation could result in numerous harms: (1) cost charter schools tuitions that tally in the hundreds of thousands of dollars in redirection payments; (3) negatively impact minority operated and run charter schools; and (3) keep growing the already ballooning waitlists at charter schools, including the estimated 30,000 in Philadelphia alone (among more). Overall, the regulation could reduce educational choice options for PA students, including the most vulnerable of minority and economically disadvantaged students. Public charter schools kept teaching our scholars during the pandemic and recent enrollment numbers show that more and more parents are choosing charter schools (close to 23,000 for the 2020 – 2021 school year alone).
If this wasn’t enough, Governor Wolf’s recent proposed PDE budget request to the General Assembly requests a cut of $373 million in charter school funding. His proposal includes “savings” to school districts by cutting special education and cyber education funding. More harm to public charter school students. At the same time, school district surpluses are close to $2 billion and charter schools currently receive $3,000 less, not the same and certainly not more, per-pupil funding than district-operated schools. Charters already receive 25% less funding on average.
This regulation does not take effect immediately. Either the House Education Committee or Senate Education Committee has 14 calendar days from when it receives the approval letter from IRRC (which could be as soon as today) to issue a concurrent resolution on the regulations. After the committee reports a concurrent resolution, the House and Senate have 30 days or 10 legislative days, whichever is later, to pass the concurrent resolution. If passed, they go to the Governor and he will likely veto the resolution.
There would be some back and forth between the Governor and General Assembly, including an attempt to override a veto. This all remains to be seen. This regulation could take effect as early as the end of May 2022.
PCPCS urges PDE and Gov. Wolf to take this regulation off of the table, work with the General Assembly on legislative reform, and negotiate a deal via the budget process culminating in June to help best serve all of our public education students.
To schedule an interview with a member of the Coalition staff, a charter school leader, or a charter school parent, please contact Jean Morrow at email@example.com.