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Gov. Wolf is wrong to go it alone on charter school reform

Gov. Tom Wolf, apparently unsatisfied with controlling merely everything in Pennsylvania related to the COVID-19 pandemic, has decided he now needs to decree what is best regarding the state’s charter schools, despite the fact that up until recently, it appeared he and the state legislature were working amicably toward a solution.

Wolf on Monday announced his intention to go it alone by using the regulatory process instead of seeking a more-permanent — and bipartisan — legislative solution. And while we don’t know why the governor opted to go that route, we feel as though we can venture a pretty good guess.

The legislature is full of Republicans. To broker something both parties can get behind, Wolf would have to compromise in his effort to pander to teachers’ unions by limiting school choice. If the past 14 months has shown us anything, it’s the governor has no appetite for compromise with Republicans.

That has state Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, whose district includes Mifflin and Juniata counties, rightfully miffed.

“The governor’s go-it-alone strategy has been wrong during the past year during the COVID-19 pandemic; wrong during the small business shutdowns; and it is wrong now,” Corman and Senate Education Committee Chairman Scott Martin said in a joint statement. “Charter schools are public schools. Any action that impacts these institutions also hurts the students and families that charter schools are designed to help.

“The timing of this announcement is equally frustrating because the governor knows that lawmakers are hard at work on this issue. The Senate Education Committee has held two of three scheduled regional public hearings to explore the necessary reforms that will lead to a stronger education system for all students, and the Department of Education has been invited to participate in all the hearings on this issue.

“After working cooperatively and involving the Wolf Administration every step of the way in this process, we cannot understand why Governor Wolf would take these unilateral actions now to undercut the important work of the General Assembly, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and his own Department of Education. We implore the governor to abandon this path and work cooperatively with the General Assembly to reform the charter school system and protect the education of all Pennsylvania students.”

To be clear, we are not anti-public schools. We believe public school districts do not deserve to be bled dry by charter school tuition and that something must be done to fix a broken system.

But students and their parents also don’t deserve to be limited to only one educational option because of their address and income.

It’s a difficult problem that will likely require a lot of work and negotiation to find a solution that works for everyone because both sides have very reasonable and valid points.

So for the governor to demonstrate he has learned nothing from the pandemic and to once again trudge forward on his own shows he is only concerned with satisfying his political allies at the expense of everyone else, including Pennsylvania students.

We hope the governor will reconsider and work with the General Assembly rather than against it.

But we’re also smart enough to not hold our breath waiting for that to happen.

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