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August 25, 2016

Pennsylvania's Department of Education hopes to improve charter schools with latest division

Gov. Tom Wolf announced its creation on Wednesday.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf announced the state's latest effort devoted toward bettering its charter schools on Wednesday.

The Pennsylvania Department of Education Division of Charter Schools hopes to help teachers and administrators bridge the gap between parents and the community, improve student achievement and ensure scholastic and financial responsibility.

“Charter schools play an important role in our education system, but that role must be accompanied by sufficient oversight,” Wolf said in a statement Wednesday. “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.”

Wolf has received criticism for his handling of Pennsylvania's education system. After he announced his 2016-17 proposed education budget, charter schools – which are privately overseen but funded publicly – said his plan would "drain $488 million from charter school coffers across the state." It could also force many of the schools to close, some say

“The governor is continuing his unrelenting attack on charter schools and the children in those schools,” Robert Fayfich, executive director of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in February.

There were 176 charter schools with more than 130,000 students in the during the 2014-15 academic year, The Inquirer reported

Jeff Sheridan, Wolf's spokesperson, told NewsWorks that the latest effort will focus heavily on cyber charter schools and hopes to bring all charter schools "in line" with how the state oversees its 500 districts.

The Division of Charter Schools, which will employ four, is not the state's only effort to ease tensions in the debate about charter schools. Some legislators hope to revisit a bill in the fall that would create a special commission that would look at funding, among other responsibilities.

“The Department has already taken a number of steps to strengthen accountability and oversight with respect to charter schools – 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,” Education Secretary Pedro A. Rivera said in a statement.