This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Gov. Wolf of Pennsylvania announced Wednesday that he’s beefing up the state’s oversight of charter schools by creating a new division within the Department of Education that is devoted solely to the sector.
"Charter schools play an important role in our education system, but that role must be accompanied by sufficient oversight," Wolf said in a statement. "Establishing this new division within the Department of Education will allow us to maximize our resources to not only ensure charters are being properly supported, but that they are being held accountable to taxpayers."
The Wolf administration says the new division will more rigorously monitor the fiscal and academic integrity of charters.
"Establishing a division within the Department is the next step to further streamline communication with charter schools, help ensure they receive needed technical assistance from the Department, and ensuring that all public schools in the commonwealth are held to the same high-quality standards," said state Education Secretary Pedro Rivera in a statement.
Wolf spokesman Jeffrey Sheridan said the move would simply bring the charter sector oversight in line with the oversight that the department gives the state’s 500 traditional districts.
"All of those things already happen with traditional public schools," said Sheridan. "They do not currently happen in the manner that they should with brick-and-mortar and cyber charter schools."
The division will take a specific interest in the health of the cyber charter sector — schools that are authorized at the state level and, overall, have a track record of poor performance.
The announcement received a tepid reception from charter advocates who see Wolf as too hostile to the sector.
"We are cautiously optimistic, but the charter community has been burned before, and our honest initial impression is that this may be another effort to undermine school choice in Pennsylvania, regardless of the statements in the press release regarding improving quality and accountability," said Robert Fayfich, executive director of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools. "We are anxious to work with [Pennsylvania Department of Education] on this initiative if we are invited to do so, but time will tell the real purpose and value of this new charter office."