What to know about Gov. Wolf’s charter school reform plans

Things are getting a bit heated in Pennsylvania’s charter school scene. In August, Gov. Tom Wolf ruffled a few feathers when he announced plans to make sweeping reforms to the Commonwealth’s “flawed and outdated charter school law.”

“Pennsylvania’s charter school law is unfair for students, parents, school districts, and taxpayers,” Gov. Wolf said in a release. “While many charter schools are succeeding, others, especially some cyber charter schools, are underperforming and we are not doing enough to hold them accountable to the taxpaying public and the children they serve.”

Charter school supporters, meanwhile, have taken issue with some of the governor’s proposed plans, saying that his reforms will harm families by limiting their options when it comes to school choice. Critics of Gov. Wolf also believe that his claims of calling these types of schools “private” are disingenuous, as charter schools are publicly funded.

As the battle over charter schools continues, here’s what to know about Gov. Wolf’s plans for reform.


Executive action and legislation

Gov. Wolf has vowed to take executive action by working with the Department of Education to improve access to high-quality education and increase transparency around charter schools and how they are funded. The governor’s August release also stated that he would look to legislation to make reforms. In particular, Gov. Wolf’s plans include establishing “performance standards” and creating “a charter school funding commission.”

Among his proposals, Gov. Wolf wants to allow school districts to limit enrollment at under-performing charter schools as well as require these institutions to provide things like regular financial audits to state regulators and other measures to keep the accountable.

Opponents of Gov. Wolf believe that he is unfairly targeting charter schools, which only work with less than 10 percent of students in the state. Critics say that he should focus on making all schools in Pennsylvania accountable, not just charter schools, which they contend are facing an unfair amount of scrutiny compared to traditional public schools.

Gov. Wolf also recently launched a “fee-for-service model” in order to cover the costs for the Department of Education when it comes to implementing charter school law. Critics, however, say the fees put undue financial strain on charter schools.


Reforming cyber charter schools

One area that Gov. Wolf wants to make massive changes to is cyber charter schools. 

According to his plans released in August, the governor wants to propose legislation that puts a “moratorium on new cyber charter schools,” caps enrollment in low-performing cyber charter schools and create more transparency around funding for cyber charter tuition payments.

Earlier this month, Gov. Wolf announced the end of the year closing of Philadelphia’s Achieving Community Transformation Academy Charter School due to poor performance. Critics say that the move will harm students and families at the school, who are now being forced to look for other options and having their choices restricted.

Additionally, beginning in the New Year, a new $86,000 fee will be imposed on new cyber charter school who want their applications reviewed by the Department of Education.