Charter Schools: State Profile

Charter Schools: State Profile - Pennsylvania

January 2018

Charter School Basics 2018
Does the state have a charter school law? Yes. The charter is for a period of 3 to 5 years and may be renewed for 5-year periods. A local school board may renew a charter for a period of 1 year once if the board determines that there is insufficient data adequately assess the charter school's academic performance and determines that an additional year of performance data is needed. 

Citations: 24 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 17-1701-A et al.; 24 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 17-1720-A

Does the state allow existing public schools to convert to charter schools? Yes. Any individual or organization authorized to establish a charter school may initiate the conversion of an existing school or portion of an existing school. More than 50% of the teaching staff and parents must have signed a petition in support of the conversion.

Citations: 24 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 17-1717-A

Does the state have any caps on the number of charter schools? No
Does the state specify who may apply to open a charter school? Yes. Individuals; 1 or more teachers planning to teach at the proposed charter school; parents or guardians of students planning to attend the charter school; any nonsectarian college, university or museum located in the state; any nonsectarian not-for-profit corporation; any corporation, association or partnership; or any combination thereof may apply.

Citations: 24 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 17-1717-A; 24 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 17-1718-A

Does the state specify the types of charter schools that may be given approval preference? No

Citations: 24 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 17-1723-A

Does the state specify the students who may be given enrollment preference? Yes. First preference is given to students who reside in the district or districts. A charter school may give preference in enrollment to a child of a parent who has actively participated in the development of the charter school and to siblings of students presently enrolled in the charter school. If there are more applications than space available, the school must select students on a random basis. A charter school must comply with the school district's desegregation order.

Citations: 24 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 17-1723-A

Does the state specify who must provide transportation to charter school students? Yes. Students must be provided free transportation to the charter school by their school district of residence, with some exceptions, if they attend:
  • A charter school located in their school district of residence.
  • A regional charter school of which the school district is a part.
  • A charter school located outside district boundaries up to 10 miles away by the nearest public highway.

Some school districts must also provide transportation if the students are the same age or are enrolled in the same grade, grades or their grade equivalents as any students of the district for whom transportation is provided under any program or policy to the schools of the district.

If a school district does not provide the required transportation, the state department of education is required to pay directly to the charter school funds for costs incurred in the transportation of its students. 

Citations: 24 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 17-1726-A

Charter School Authorizing 2018
What organizations may authorize charter schools, and is there a statewide authorizing body? Local school boards can authorize charter schools. In addition, two or more local school boards may grant regional charters. Virtual charter applicants apply to the department of education, which authorizes virtual charter schools statewide.

Citations: 24 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 17-1717-A; 24 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 17-1718-A; 24 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 17-1745-A

Is there an appeals process for charter applicants? Yes. Denied applications may be appealed to a state charter school appeals board. For a charter school applicant to be eligible to appeal, the applicant must obtain the signatures of at least 2% of the residents of the school district or of 1,000 residents, whichever is less, who are over 18 years of age. For a regional charter school, the applicant must obtain the signatures of at least 2% of the residents of each school district granting the charter or of 1,000 residents from each of the school districts granting the charter, whichever is less, who are over 18 years of age. The signatures must be obtained within 60 days of the denial of the application by the local board of directors. All decisions by the state charter school appeals board are subject to appellate review by the commonwealth court.

Citations: 24 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 17-1717-A; 24 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 17-1721-A

Has the state established standards for quality school authorizing that authorizers must meet? No
Does the state require the authorizer to report on the performance of its portfolio of schools? No. However, the local school board is required to annually assess whether each charter school is meeting the goals of its charter and is required to conduct a comprehensive review prior to granting a 5-year renewal of the charter. The local school board has ongoing access to the records and facilities of the charter school to ensure that the charter school is in compliance with its charter and state law and that requirements for testing, civil rights and student health and safety are being met.

Citations: 24 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 17-1728-A

Are there sanctions in place for authorizers? No
Charter School Autonomy and Accountability 2018
What rules are waived for charter schools? Charter schools receive an automatic waiver from most state and school district laws, regulations and policies, except for those that directly apply to charter schools. Charter schools must comply with provisions relating to, among others:
  • Discrimination
  • Instructional time
  • Civil rights
  • Health and safety
  • Attendance

Citations: 24 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 17-1715-A; 17-1732-A

Does the state specify grounds for terminating or not renewing a school’s charter? Yes. During the term of the charter or at the end of the term of the charter, the local school board may choose to revoke or not to renew the charter based on any of the following:
  • One or more material violations of any of the conditions, standards or procedures contained in the written charter.
  • Failure to meet the requirements for student performance set forth in law or failure to meet any performance standard set forth in the written charter.
  • Failure to meet generally accepted standards of fiscal management or audit requirements.
  • Violation of provisions of state charter law.
  • Violation of any provision of law from which the charter school has not been exempted, including federal laws and regulations governing children with disabilities.
  • The charter school has been convicted of fraud.

When a charter school located in a school district of the first class is in corrective action status and seeks renewal of its charter, if the local school board renews the charter, it may place specific conditions in the charter that require the charter school to meet specific student performance targets within stated periods of time subject to the following:
  • The performance targets and the periods of time in which the performance targets must be met shall be reasonable.
  • The placement of conditions in a charter cannot be considered an adjudication and may not be appealed to the state charter school appeal board.
  • If the charter school fails to meet the performance targets within the stated period of time, the failure is sufficient cause for revocation of the charter.
Note: The statute where these provisions are located was called into question by the 2014 court case Charlene R. v. Solomon Charter School.

Citations: 24 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 17-1729-A See Note: Charlene R. v. Solomon Charter School, November 21, 2014

Does the state set a threshold beneath which a charter school must automatically be closed? No
Charter School Finance 2018
How is the funding for a charter school determined? Charter schools receive no less than the average district per-pupil budgeted expenditure of the previous school year, minus the budgeted expenditures for nonpublic school programs, adult education programs, community/junior college programs, student transportation services, special education programs, facilities acquisition, construction and improvement services, and other financing uses.

Citations: 24 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 17-1725-A

Who provides charter schools with their funding? The school district

Citations: 24 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 17-1725-A

Does the state provide start-up or planning grants to new charter schools? Yes. The state secretary of education distributes appropriated planning and start-up funding grants to qualifying start-up charter schools. The amount awarded varies based on the size and characteristics of the charter school.

Citations: 24 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 17-1731-A

What kind of facilities funding is available to charter schools? Direct funding:
Charter schools leasing buildings or portions of buildings receive an annual lease reimbursement. The reimbursement amount is the lesser of the charter school’s annual lease payment or $160 per-pupil for elementary schools, $220 per-pupil for secondary schools and $270 per-pupil for area vocational-technical schools.

Other funding:
Charter schools have access to tax-exempt financing through the State Public School Building Authority for construction and improvement of facilities, and can apply for bond financing through local industrial authorities.

Citations: 24 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 25-2574.3; 24 P.S. § 791.4

Charter School Teachers 2018
Do teachers in a charter school have to be certified? Up to 25% of teachers may be uncertified.

Citations: 24 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 17-1724-A

What sets teacher salaries? The charter school

Citations: 24 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 17-1716-A; 24 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 17-1724-A(a)

Does the state require school districts to grant teachers a leave of absence to teach in a charter school? Yes. Teachers make take a leave of absence for up to 5 years.

Citations: 24 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 17-1724-A

Do teachers in a state’s charter schools have equal access to the public school teachers’ retirement system? Yes

Citations: 24 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 17-1724-A

Virtual Charter Schools 2018
Does state law explicitly allow virtual charter schools? Yes

Citations: 24 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 17-1703-A; 24 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 17-1741-A through 24 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 17-1751-A

Is there a statewide authorizer specific for virtual charter schools? Yes. The department of education authorizes virtual charter schools.

Citations: 24 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 17-1703; 24 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 17-1741-A

Does the state set enrollment limits for virtual charter schools? No. However, applications for virtual charter schools must include the anticipated level of enrollment during each school year, included expected increases due to adding grade levels. If a virtual charter school's enrollment increases or decreases 30% or more than the anticipated enrollment levels, the school must report the increase or decrease to the authorizer.

Citations: 24 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 17-1743-A; 24 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 17-1747-A

Is there additional oversight specific to virtual charter schools? Yes. Virtual charter schools, which are authorized by the state department of education, are subject to laws specific to virtual charter schools including, but not limited to, requirements for finances, enrollment, reporting, information for parents and students, student records and administrative offices. Some specific requirements include: 
  • The school must maintain an administrative office in the state. 
  • The school must provide instructional materials and a computer for all students and reimburse students for all technology and services necessary for instruction delivery. 
  • Upon request, virtual charter schools must make a various information available to an enrolled student' school district, such as annual reports and a list of all student from the district enrolled in the school.

Citations: 24 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 17-1741-A through 24 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 17-1751-A; 24 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 17-1743-A

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