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PA House Passes Charter School Package, But Funding Remains A Conundrum

Tom Downing/WITF
Tom Downing/WITF

HARRISBURG, PA (WSKG) -- State House lawmakers have passed a slate of bills aimed at reforming the commonwealth's 22-year-old charter school laws.

Two sparked impassioned debate--but a larger discussion about funding is still brewing.

One of the bills creates new ethics requirements for charter school administrators, and another would let charter students enroll in college classes.

Those weren't controversial. But the other pair prompted extended floor debate.

The first would make it easier for charters to buy or lease unused school buildings, and require districts to let charters use their facilities for tests. The second looks to standardize the process for establishing charters.

Democrats say the bills take control away from districts. And many, like Luzerne County Representative Mike Carroll, argue they can't be considered without addressing an overarching issue.

"You can't have the charter schools without the funding that comes from our 500 school districts," he said. "As we contemplate any charter school bill...our school districts and our students and our teachers--at least for me--will insist on a conversation about how we fund charter school education."

Public school advocates argue overall, charter schools route too much money from traditional districts.

Lawmakers may consider the funding issue in the coming weeks.

The charter school package is part of a broad slate of education bills lawmakers are considering during negotiations on next year's budget.

They recently passed a bill that would almost double tax credits for private school scholarship providers, which Wolf has said he will veto.

A spokeswoman for the Senate says the chamber looks forward to considering the charter school bills. A spokesman for Governor Tom Wolf didn't return a request for comment.