A state Senate committee on Tuesday approved a bill that would create a state-run system to take over low-performing Pennsylvania schools, sending to the full chamber a measure that Philadelphia's superintendent said could be devastating to city schools.
Modeled after similar legislation in states such as Louisiana and Tennessee, Senate Bill 6 mandates that the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools - as defined by the state's school performance profile - transform themselves within three years, either by contracting with outside providers or converting to charters. The bottom 1 percent would have only two years to improve.
Schools that failed in turnaround efforts could be placed into a state-run district, the Achievement School District, which would be able to close schools and authorize new charters.
Though it cleared the Senate Education Committee, the legislation's fate is unclear. Committee Chair Lloyd Smucker (R., Lancaster) has said the bill has bipartisan backing, but Minority Chair Andy Dinniman (D., Chester) was among those indicating Tuesday that he would not support it as currently constructed.
Sen. Vincent Hughes (D., Phila.) plans to introduce an alternative to the bill next week, said spokesman Ben Waxman.
Gov. Wolf, an opponent of school choice, has not indicated if he would sign any school accountability legislation, but his spokesman, Jeff Sheridan, said Tuesday that "we have concerns with this bill and will continue to work with the Senate." The first-term Democrat is seeking more school funding in next year's budget.
At Tuesday's hearing, Smucker said he felt his proposal could help struggling schools across the state. "If schools over time aren't perfect, there's got to be a better way," he said.
But such requirements could have a significant impact on the Philadelphia School District, where nearly 100 schools are in the state's bottom 5 percent in terms of performance.
Philadelphia's school superintendent, William R. Hite Jr., told the committee last month that the effect on his district could be devastating, creating "an unfunded turnaround mandate."
"In a period of scarcity, every additional dollar allocated to turnaround is a dollar pulled out of other schools," Hite said.
Though still being crafted, Hughes' anticipated proposal is likely to offer different requirements for low-performing schools, such as reducing class sizes, offering longer instructional periods - and potentially requiring Saturday school - and increasing social services for students, Waxman said.