This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
City Council unanimously passed a resolution Thursday calling on Gov. Wolf to appoint new members to the state Charter Appeal Board, which is now made up of holdovers from the administration of Tom Corbett, and to place a moratorium on the board’s activities until this happens.
All five sitting members of the board, which has the power to overturn local school districts’ decisions on the establishment, renewal and termination of charter schools, are still sitting even though their terms have expired. There is one vacancy.
The Notebook reported in February that all these members have backgrounds with either charter or Catholic schools, but not with traditional public schools.
“These serving Board members reflect the priorities and values of former Governor Corbett, who cut funding for public education by over $1 billion,” the resolution states. Wolf could reappoint these members if he so chooses, it notes, but in any case, he is responsible for making sure that CAB members are serving unexpired terms and “reflect the educational priorities and values of his administration.”
The resolution was introduced by Council member Helen Gym and co-sponsored by Jannie Blackwell and Bill Greenlee.
“Governor Wolf has received overwhelming support from Pennsylvania voters because of his pro-public education agenda,” said Gym in a statement. “We trust in the Governor’s ability to appoint members who will take their role seriously, and who support his vision for strong public schools. We also need the Senate to step up to the challenge of governing and reject partisan grandstanding to get appointees promptly confirmed.”
Throughout his entire first term, Wolf did not attempt to make any appointments to the CAB, which require the approval of the Republican-dominated legislature.
Assumptions that the CAB will overturn charter terminations or nonrenewals have affected the decision-making processes of local school boards, including in Philadelphia, which has half the charter schools in the state – 87 schools enrolling 65,000 students. The appeals process is lengthy and costly.
The advocacy group Public Citizens for Children & Youth has been circulating a petition seeking a moratorium on all CAB actions until new members are appointed to four-year terms.
“The CAB, like any board, must reflect the diverse needs of Pennsylvania students and represents the interests of all school models,” the resolution says. “Given a Democratic Governor and Republican-controlled State Senate, the CAB appointment process has the potential to represent a bipartisan approach to ensuring that the accountability placed on charter schools and school boards is fair.”
Wolf was in Philadelphia on Thursday to announce that he wants to spend $4.5 billion on school infrastructure improvement over several years, including up to $100 million to remediate lead in all Philadelphia schools. He did not address the CAB issue during his appearance.