Pa. Supreme Court ruling helps school districts limit charter school expansion

    The Pennsylvania Supreme Court delivered a ruling this week that gives traditional public school districts more power to limit charter school growth. 

    The Pennsylvania Supreme Court delivered a ruling this week that gives traditional public school districts more power to limit charter school growth.

    The case involved Discovery Charter School in Philadelphia, which, in 2013, during renewal negotiations, had been seeking to amend its agreement with the city school district to increase its enrollment by 70 percent. 

    The School District of Philadelphia recommended renewal, but, citing budget concerns, the School Reform Commission declined to vote on anything that increased the charter’s enrollment.

    Left in limbo, Discovery took this as a rejection, and filed an appeal to a state board.

    So the essential question in the case was this: Does the state Charter Appeals Board (CAB) have jurisdiction when a charter seeks to amend its deal with a district, but is then left in limbo without a vote?

    In 2015, the Commonwealth Court said ‘yes.’ This week, the Supreme Court said ‘no,’ noting the lower court’s decision didn’t have backing in the state’s charter school law.

    “It sets a precedent now, statewide, for any charter school that wants to amend its charter to either increase enrollment or relocate. A school district now has a loophole where they can ignore the request for an amendment to the charter, and the charter has no recourse,” said Tim Eller, executive director of the Keystone Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

    Advocates for traditional district schools laud the ruling as one that will help keep the costs of charter expansion in check.

    Charter advocates hope this spurs momentum to pass a revision to the state’s decades old charter law.

    The most recent version of that bill, as green-lit by the state Senate, would expressly allow charters to seek to amend their deals at any time. School boards then would need to vote on the proposals. If rejected, charters could appeal to the CAB, which, under the bill, would become friendlier to the charter sector.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    Help us get to 100% of our membership goal to support the reporters covering our region, the producers bringing you great local programs and the educators who teach all our children.