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Charter boards: Nearly everyone is eligible

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Board members of charter schools face virtually no eligibility requirements, unlike members of traditional school boards.

Under the Pennsylvania Public School Code, board members of traditional public schools must be at least 18 years old, have lived in the district for at least one year, and not have been convicted of a serious crime.

They may not serve as a school board member and hold most elected municipal offices. The code also “prohibits school directors from being employed by, or doing business with the district where they are elected or appointed, subject to certain exceptions.”

In Pennsylvania, according to the state Department of Education, none of these restrictions applies to charter school board members. The only eligibility limitation is that someone cannot serve simultaneously on both a charter school board and the school board of that district.

Pennsylvania is not alone in exempting charter school board members from the eligibility provisions of traditional school board members. New Jersey operates the same way with two exceptions.

Charter school board members there, like those of traditional public schools, must complete a training course offered by the New Jersey School Boards Association.

And they cannot serve as “voting members” of a charter school board if they do business with the school and receive payment.

The lack of regulations governing charter school board members has long been a concern of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA), said its general counsel, Stuart Knade.

“Generally, we’ve held over the years that charter schools should be held to the same standards as public schools,” he said. “Now it’s kind of loosey-goosey.”

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