Lingering questions sink GOP charter school bill
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HARRISBURG -- As the final voting hours of the legislative session wore on, it became clear to state House Republican leaders that they lacked the votes to pass charter school changes negotiated with the Senate and the governor.
Some members, wanting immediate changes to funding for cyber charter schools, were not satisfied with the bill's creation of a commission to examine funding. Others were concerned by the appearance of a provision correcting a technical error in a budget bill.
Wednesday evening, House Speaker Sam Smith made a final pitch to his Republican caucus, which would have to provide the vast majority of votes on a bill with little Democratic support.
"Somewhere at that point, it became pretty clear to me we probably weren't going to be able to get this done," he said after the House adjourned.
On Thursday, House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods, attributed the failure to find a majority in part to the view of some members that charter funding needed to be reformed sooner than a study commission would allow.
"This charter school quote-unquote reform is something a number of folks wanted," he said. "But in the end, what came out in dealing with charter schools is that the funding for cyber charters, in particular, is an issue that has to be addressed, and the commission wasn't going to satisfy a lot of members."
Another problem was with a provision correcting an error this summer in an appropriation for Butler County Community College. The change became the subject of misconceptions when House Republicans learned of it Wednesday, said Steve Miskin, a spokesman for the caucus.
"In some members' minds, it just appeared there and they weren't told about it, whereas the people who put it in knew it was just a technical correction in the fiscal code," Mr. Miskin said. "It ended up getting a life of its own, and it became an issue. Why is that in here? Why is that getting special treatment? At that point, it just became harder and harder to let everybody know this was what it was."
Rep. Jeff Pyle, R-Ford City, was among the members who wanted more immediate changes to charter funding.
"I would have been one of those guys, had I been asked, who would have said we have to go further," he said, although he added that he had not decided how to vote. "I was totally on the fence. They worked on me for hours."
Mr. Turzai noted the House had passed an earlier version of charter reform legislation with 120 votes, more than a majority of the 203-seat chamber, but that the Senate, which had its own version, had not concurred. He declined to directly confirm that the legislation nearly considered Wednesday was an agreement with Senate leaders and Gov. Tom Corbett, as aides to all three have said.
"In the end, until you have 26, 102 and one, you don't have it done," Mr. Turzai said.
First Published October 19, 2012 12:00 am