Your Education Road Map

Politics K-12®

ESSA. Congress. State chiefs. School spending. Elections. Education Week reporters keep watch on education policy and politics in the nation’s capital and in the states. Read more from this blog.


A Big Charter School Struggle Has Been Galvanized by a Democratic Governor

By Andrew Ujifusa — August 18, 2019 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

A battle over school choice in Pennsylvania is intensifying, in large part due to a governor who doesn’t like his state’s status quo.

Back in June, we reported on Gov. Tom Wolf’s decision to veto a bill expanding the state’s tax-credit scholarship program and how, in doing so, the Democratic governor captured the mood of the national party’s skepticism of choice. Just a few days ago, Wolf underscored the position he’s staked out on the issue by calling for major changes to charter schoolsin the Keystone State.

On Tuesday, the second-term governor directed his state department of education to determine a way to limit enrollment in “underperforming” charters (as the Associated Press put it). In addition, according to the AP, Wolf also “wants charter schools to meet stricter transparency, ethics, and financial management standards and to prevent them from overcharging public schools for their services.” (The Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials, which applauded Wolf’s proposals, said that in the 2017-18 school year, state school districts provided $1.8 billion to charter schools.)

There still is some uncertainty about what Wolf is proposing. Among the questions we had about Wolf’s suite of policy proposals:

  • How exactly would the state determine what constitutes a high-quality charter school or (conversely) a school that fails to meet that standard?
  • Why would Wolf oppose limiting enrollment at these charters, instead of calling on them to be shut down or presenting a proposal to the state legislature to do so?
  • Does the state have any numbers to share about how much his proposed financial reforms could benefit districts?

We put those questions to the state education department, and we’ll update this post if we hear back. Pennsylvania’s legislature is controlled by Republicans, making any legislative proposals on this issue from Wolf a tough sell.

However, the Pennsylvnia Coalition of Public Charter Schools slammed the governor’s proposals as unfairly targeting charter schools, and accused him of overriding thousands of families’ decisions about education with his own erroneous judgement. “Furthermore, it seems that Governor Wolf is abusing his authority as we believe that some of what he is proposing through executive order and regulatory action is contrary to the law,” the coalition said in a statement.

We asked the coalition if Wolf’s stepped-up moves against the charter sector caught them off-guard. In response, the group said the governor’s moves “came without warning to the charter school community but the blatant attack on charter schools and the students they serve was not surprising.”

“We are looking into the legality of his proposal to charge charter schools for technical assistance provided by the [state education department] and arbitrarily capping charter school enrollment,” the coalition said.

As he’s shored up his standing with traditional public schools and their advocates, Wolf hasn’t been afraid to pit charter schools against traditional public schools and the districts that run them.

Earlier this month, the governor referred to charter schools as “private.” In response, Ana Meyers, the executive director of the state charter coalition, said she was “shocked” at what she called the governor’s ignorance. Her group also accused Wolf of hypocrisy, saying that, “Across the state we have many school districts failing both financially and academically ... Even though some of these districts are under state control, they are still failing their students.”

Last month, PennLive reported that Wolf lamented “the privatization of education in our public schools.” And in a news release celebrating a $1.4 billion increase for both K-12 and higher education, the governor stated, “Pennsylvania must help school districts struggling with the problem of increasing amounts of school funding siphoned by private cyber and charter schools.”

Charters are publicly financed but operate independently from traditional public school district leadership. Charter schools in the state got a mixed review from Stanford University this year, with brick-and-mortar charters showing some good results but cyber charters struggling. (Cyber charters have had a particularly troubled history in Pennsylvania.)

Support for charter schools has gradually eroded for Democrats, at least at the national level, over the last 25 years or so. This year, most Democratic candidates for president have been reluctant to publicly support them. To a certain extent, Wolf’s criticism of charters mirrors attacks from Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who wants to impose major limits on how charters are funded and how they operate.

Follow us on Twitter @PoliticsK12. And follow the Politics K-12 reporters @EvieBlad @Daarel and @AndrewUjifusa.

Related Tags:

Commenting has been disabled on effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Schools Get the Brunt of Latest COVID Wave in South Carolina
In the past few weeks, South Carolina has set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases have approached peak levels of last winter.
4 min read
Two Camden Elementary School students in masks listen as South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster talks about steps the school is taking to fight COVID-19, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Camden, S.C. McMaster has adamantly and repeatedly come out against requiring masks in schools even as the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the state has risen since early June. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP