For now, charter approval isn't a Pennsylvania GOP priority

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HARRISBURG -- Republican legislative leaders have agreed to set aside a controversial measure that would make it easier for charter schools to form, instead focusing on other regulatory changes this week in final votes before the election.

Proponents of charter schools want to allow the authorization of new schools by a statewide board, rather than requiring the approval of local school districts.

In June, discord over a statewide authorizer was among the charter-related disagreements that pushed state budget negotiations to the deadline. Days after the budget's signing -- without changes to charter regulation -- Gov. Tom Corbett said of the charter reforms that negotiators had been "within a sentence of getting it done."

Legislative leaders and the governor's office now have agreed to set aside the statewide authorizer for future consideration and aim to push through an agreement on other regulatory changes, said Erik Arneson, a spokesman for Senate Republicans.

Those changes include forming a commission to examine funding, mandating annual independent audits and requiring the state to directly pay charter schools, unless the schools opt to continue collecting from their sending districts. Steve Miskin, a spokesman for House Republicans, confirmed the components of the agreement.

"All of the issues on the charter reform bill appear to have been worked out at this point, pending caucus discussion" Mr. Arneson said. "It appears the statewide authorizer issue is going to be revisited at some point in the future but will not be included in this particular piece of legislation."

Mr. Arneson said there is broad support for a statewide authorizer among Senate Republicans but that agreement had not been reached on the form such an entity should take. Mr. Miskin described the views among House Republicans as "far-ranging." Mr. Corbett has supported the creation of a statewide authorizer.

A spokesman for the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools said the organization is encouraged by the agreement.

"The legislation as we understand it provides elements that the coalition supports, that include increased flexibility, transparency and accountability for charter schools," spokesman Ken Kilpatrick said.

State education officials would be required to measure and assess the academic performance of charter schools, while charter schools would have to establish teacher evaluation systems, according to a summary provided by Senate Republicans.

The House and Senate convene this week for their final session days before the election, and leaders in each chamber say they will not hold votes when they return mid-November.

In addition to the charter school measure, legislation allowing the state to spend part of the savings from a prison sentencing overhaul package is expected to clear the Senate. The proposal to authorize spending on law enforcement and criminal justice programs would complete a package of corrections proposals, endorsed by Mr. Corbett, which consultants to the state have said could save hundreds of millions of dollars in coming years.

In the House, Democrats plan to again push for a vote calling for a federal probe into the state investigation of former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, who last week was sentenced to at least 30 years in prison for sexually abusing children. An effort to force a vote last week led to an halt in legislative debate.

"Our intention is still to push to get a vote on this," said Brett Marcy, a spokesman for House Democrats. "We believe there are many questions and concerns still left unanswered."

Mr. Miskin said only politicians are questioning an investigation -- by the office Mr. Corbett ran as attorney general -- that yielded convictions.

Movement to extend the right-to-know law to state-supported universities, such as Penn State, will be saved for a discussion next year of comprehensive changes to open records policies, Mr. Arneson said.

And a bill clearing the way for payday lending in the state appears unlikely to move out of a Senate committee this week.

education - state

Karen Langley: klangley@post-gazette.com or 717-787-2141.


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