The $100 million bump to the state's general education budget proposed this week by Gov. Wolf is welcome, though not necessarily transformative. The proposal — which also includes additional money for pre-K, special education, and higher ed — will be enough for school districts to keep up with rising costs on pensions and other items, and help out some districts in distress, but not enough to initiate new reforms or programs.
Full-blown education reform is a big ask, and takes time. That said, there is one change that could make an immediate difference in the quality of education, and that's a serious review and revision of the state's policies on charter schools.
The charter-school law, over 20 years old, has never been revised to improve accountability or performance.
Charters were intended to create and spread innovations into traditional public schools, but the evidence they have done so is scarce, and study after study has found charters trailing traditional public schools in key areas of performance.
The latest of those studies, from Philadelphia Citizens for Children and Youth, calls for stricter accountability measures for charters' performance and renewals.
Last year alone, public school districts paid $1.5 billion for students attending a charter – out of their full budgets. And every action the state has taken – taking away reimbursements to the districts for those costs, being less than rigorous in oversight, and pushing an approval process that would take further control out of the districts – has created two separate education systems that too often work against each other.
There are clear steps that lawmakers can take; in fact PCCY outlines them in full in its report. Charters have been around for 20 years; it's time lawmakers took an interest in how they're actually working.