Pennsylvania Supreme Court enables school district’s bad behavior

August 11, 2017 | By CALEB TROTTER

This week the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decided Discovery Charter School v. School District of Philadelphia. As we discussed last year, Discovery is a successful Philadelphia school that serves grades K-8. In light of its students’ academic success, Discovery amassed a waiting list of 1,448 hopeful new students. In 2012, Discovery sought permission from the School District of Philadelphia to amend its charter to increase enrollment by 430 students over a four-year period. But the school district failed to formally act on Discovery’s amendment request, instead choosing to informally decide not to vote on charter enrollment expansions. As a result, Discovery sought review by the state Charter School Appeal Board (which refused to review the decision), and ultimately wound up in court.

The issues before the Supreme Court were whether the state charter school law provides a mechanism to amend material terms of a charter, and whether a school district’s refusal to act on an amendment request is appealable. Unfortunately, the court held the answer to both questions to be “no.” This is a most unfortunate decision, because, as we stated in our amicus brief to the court:

Pennsylvania school districts routinely act with hostility toward the creation and growth of charter schools, and undermine the competitive dynamic adopted by the Legislature. This case is just the latest example. Because of school district hostility and intransigence, charter schools regularly rely on the Appeal Board and Pennsylvania courts to vindicate the purpose of the Charter School Law. Review by the Appeal Board is thus necessary to ensure that the School District, which cannot act to stifle charter school growth, cannot accomplish the same invidious end by failing to act.

Because the court held that the charter school law does not allow for amendments to charters or appeals of amendment request denials, the Pennsylvania legislature will now need to fix the law to put an end to school districts’ bad behavior. We encourage them to do so as soon as possible. Students can’t afford to wait any longer for a quality education.