HARRISBURG - A senior official from a national charter-school group told charter representatives Tuesday all signs indicate that President-elect Donald Trump will be good for their schools, but he said it was not clear what they should expect from the new administration.
Ron Rice, senior director of government relations at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools in Washington, agreed that Trump's nomination of school-choice champion Betsy DeVos to be education secretary and his statement during the campaign that he wanted to provide $20 billion in federal money for school choice were encouraging, but he added:
"We don't really know what that means. We don't really know where that money will come from."
Speaking at a seminar organized by the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools, Rice told charter-school leaders and advocates that the national coalition was preparing a transition memo for Trump's team outlining its priorities.
Among other things, he said the coalition hopes additional money will be used to help cover facility costs for charters. The organization also will request that a federal program that helps finance new charter schools grows from $333 million a year to $1 billion annually by 2020.
But Rice said the coalition does not want money for charters to be distributed in block grants to the states or to be taken from existing federal programs, such as Title 1, which helps schools with low-income students.
The latter would amount to "robbing Peter to pay Paul," Rice said. "The reality is, it would make our opponents right if they said we were trying to destroy public education."
During the daylong forum, 50 charter officials and supporters also got a glimpse into what may be on the horizon for charter schools in Pennsylvania in the coming months.
"I think choice and competition in the [education] system is important," said State Sen. Ryan P. Aument, (R., Lancaster).
He said he expects proposals will be introduced in the next legislative session to change and update the state's 1997 charter-school law.
But he said it was difficult to get a clear picture of the Harrisburg landscape yet because the membership and the leadership of the education committees in the House and Senate were in flux.
Aument expects finances to be a major challenge in the next fiscal year. He said claims that charters drain resources from school districts showed no signs of abating. Money sent to charter schools, he said, is one of the top three concerns he hears whenever he visits a school district.
Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, a Democrat, said updating the state charter law also remains one of his top priorities.
He favors amending the law to reward successful, law-abiding operators with longer agreements and mandating that charter management organizations adhere to the state's Right to Know Law. The management organizations may be private companies, but DePasquale said entities that are created solely to manage taxpayer-funded schools should be publicly accountable.
Charter officials Tuesday also received briefings on the state's Open Records Laws and the status of several charter lawsuits. They also heard a presentation on ethics for educators.
Meanwhile, Larry Jones Jr., the CEO of Richard Allen Preparatory Charter School in Southwest Philadelphia, made a plea.
The charter movement, he said, has lost its way.
Instead of talking about "seats" and adding campuses, Jones said, charter leaders should once again articulate the original principles of children, choice, competition, and innovation that lead to the creation of charter schools.
"When we're about children," Jones said, "there is no other movement that has impacted public education like we have."