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Pa. charter school law 'worst in U.S.,' state auditor general says

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    Kevin McCorry / WHYY

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Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale issued a scathing report damning the state charter law Tuesday, and he blamed many of the School District of Philadelphia's fiscal woes on state lawmakers who have not revised the nearly 20-year-old measure.

"Our charter school law is simply the worst charter school law in the United States," said DePasquale at a news conference at the Philadelphia District's headquarters.

Specifically, DePasquale said, the law fails to give districts the power to ensure that only high-performing charters that serve equitable populations of children are opening. And he lamented that districts waste too much time and too many resources fighting to close underperformers.

He blamed recent failed efforts in Harrisburg to reform the charter law on special interest lobbying.

"What else could it be?" he said, citing the popularity of reforms in preliminary votes.

DePasquale's audit studied the impact of Philadelphia charters on the traditional District schools using data from July 2011 to June 2015. He will release an audit of the District itself later this spring.

DePasquale targeted a few specific actions during Gov. Tom Corbett's tenure for deepening Philadelphia's woes, including eliminating funds that helped cover the added costs of the charter sector.

"The tension between the district that authorized them and the charter school has to end," he said. "And when the charter school reimbursement was pulled away, that exacerbated the tension. So it literally became a fight for funding, and that has to stop."

DePasquale also decried the fact that state Republicans amended the 2014 cigarette tax to make it easier for charters to open in Philadelphia. He said the costs incurred by the District because of this will soon outstrip the benefits — especially because the revenue-generating portion of the bill is set to expire in three years.

Read the rest of this story at NewsWorks

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Kevin McCorry

Kevin is WHYY/NewsWorks' senior education writer.