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State Lawmaker Works to Improve Charter, Cyber Charter Schools

A Pittsburgh-area state lawmaker wants charter and cyber charter schools to be regulated as strictly as public schools.

Sen. Jim Brewster (D-Allegheny/Westmoreland) introduced a package of legislation that aims to address issues with charter and cyber charter schools’ accountability, teacher certification and the need for high quality pre-kindergarten.

If passed, Brewster’s legislation would halt the State Charter School Appeal Board and the Department of Education from approving a new charter or cyber charter school.

He said he thinks the commonwealth should concentrate on improving already established charters instead of approving charters that have been denied by the local school board.

“I believe that there are some charter schools doing a really good job but it’s pretty obvious from some of the reports we’ve seen that the lack of oversight, lack of transparency, a lack of regulations and controls that we now have in our public school systems simply are not there for charter schools in every case,” Brewster said. “And we’re seeing some serious accusations being made.”

One such difference between public and charter schools is that only 75 percent of charter school teachers currently need to be certified.

“If charter schools are here to stay, let’s make sure stakeholders are making the decision, the local school boards who represent the taxpayers, let’s make sure that the guidelines for teachers are the same as they are in the public schools, that the teachers are certified, that they’ve gone through a series of education backgrounds that reflect the fields they’re gonna teach in and that they’re done student teaching,” Brewster said.

Brewster said teachers currently at charter schools would not be affected by the legislation.

“If you’re using taxpayer dollars, why would you not have the same process and procedures in place for charter schools who end up with those taxpayer dollars,” Brewster said. “We would grandfather in existing charter school teachers, my intent is not to have anyone lose their job but on future charter schools, ones that are in the pipeline, I think it’s time they understand that they need to get people certified.”

Brewster’s legislation also calls for the creation of the Prepare All Kids Program, which would use federal dollars to generate voluntary, high-quality pre-kindergarten opportunities for children.

It would create a group of educators and support staff to fill openings in nearby school districts if a school is forced to close.

The four bills have been referred to the Senate Education Committee.