This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
A bill that would substantially revise Pennsylvania’s charter school law for the first time since its inception nearly 20 years ago is being hotly debated in the Capitol.
Charter school advocates are saying the bill is a fair compromise, while traditional school advocates say it’s an unwise overreach.
Republican legislative leaders have been pushing for the bill to be included in any broader deal that would boost state revenues, but Senate leaders have said they are not willing to let it derail budget talks.
On Sunday night, Gov. Wolf agreed to allow a $31.5 billion spending plan to become law without first figuring out how to pay for it.
As leaders work toward a revenue package compromise, a charter school policy debate has been swirled within the larger talks.
There’s wide agreement that the current charter law has fallen well behind the times.
"The charter law in Pennsylvania, relative to laws in other states, has consistently been dropping every year in terms of its effectiveness," said Robert Fayfich, executive director of the Pennsylvania Coalition for Public Charter Schools.
State Auditor General Eugene Depasquale recently took that sentiment a step further, saying Pennsylvania’s "is simply the worst charter school law in the United States."
The original 1997 state law was considered out of touch with the needs and challenges of both the traditional and charter sectors almost immediately after implementation.
The latest version of a bill that would revise the law is available to the public, but leaders continue to tweak language behind closed doors, potentially giving people very little time to read the changes before a vote.
"The legislature has not been able to broker a compromise bill that sort of finds a common ground that both sides are comfortable with," said Jim Buckheit, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators. "The latest version that was public, we think, was tilted too far to the charter school side."