Charter school bill falls apart in Pa. House

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HARRISBURG -- An agreement to change charter school regulations this year fell apart Wednesday night when House leaders found themselves short on votes and declined to bring up the bill.

For days, aides to the Republican leaders of the House and Senate had said they and the governor had agreed to set aside controversial proposals for charter reform so they could pass a set of changes to fiscal, governance and academic accountability rules. Earlier Wednesday, Gov. Tom Corbett said he planned to sign the legislation, which he described as a compromise among parties.

But House leaders worked into the night without calling the bill and, around 9:30 p.m., announced they would adjourn until after the election. After leaving the chamber, House Speaker Sam Smith, R-Jefferson, attributed the breakdown in part to dissatisfaction among some members with a provision establishing a commission to examine charter school funding. Some of those members wanted the Legislature to go ahead and change aspects of funding, such as that for cyber charter schools, he said.

Mr. Smith said he made a final pitch to Republican members at a caucus meeting earlier that night.

"At 7:30, 8 o'clock I guess is when I probably made a last pitch to people that, understand, this bill didn't solve the problems, it wasn't total reform, we accept that, but that we needed to make this modest step forward in order to put us on solid footing coming into next June's budget year," he said. "Somewhere at that point it became pretty clear to me we probably weren't going to be able to get this done."

Republican leaders expected to need about 100 votes from their party to pass the bill.

"It is disappointing to me, I will say," Mr. Smith continued. "I truly believe that it was a needed step in helping us to get to the harder-core reforms that I think people would like to see."

Erik Arneson, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware, said the Senate had not received any official explanation from the House of its objections. The Senate on Tuesday had passed the measure 33-16.

"There was, without question, an agreement to pass the version of (the bill) approved by the Senate," Mr. Arneson said in an email. "We hope to learn why there was not a vote in the coming days."

Mr. Corbett also had expected the bill on his desk. At a bill signing Wednesday morning at a Harrisburg fire station, he told reporters he planned to sign the legislation, though he understood it did not address all concerns about charter schools.

"I believe we do need to have some adjustments in the funding," he said. "I think the members of the Legislature understand that. So while we couldn't get there this year, I believe we will. I'm satisfied with what will be presented to me in the bill."

After the House adjourned, Kevin Harley, the spokesman for Mr. Corbett, said the governor would continue working toward the charter law changes when legislators return in the new year.

"We're disappointed that the Legislature couldn't get it done," he said. "However, we'll work on getting the legislation introduced in January."

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