Plowing ahead recklessly would only invite ill-considered changes that may leave us no better off - and possibly in worse shape - than we are now. We need an open, transparent process for revising the law that encourages consensus among charter school operators, parents, and school districts.
These groups can create a new foundation for governing charter schools that builds on what we know now, making a promising charter movement even better through a clearer and stronger law.
Here's what the revisions ought to address:
Fiscal accountability: We need to strengthen fiscal accountability without drowning charter school operators in a sea of reporting requirements.
Only some of the city's charter schools have sullied the charter movement through financial malfeasance, but that's still too many. Controls must be put in place to assure that charter operators are competent and trustworthy. Financial mismanagement and personal greed cannot be tolerated.
To ensure a fair accountability process, fiscal oversight must include a single, nonpolitical, independent, professional audit covering all aspects of charter school operations and finances.
Performance monitoring: Those who authorize charter schools - in Pennsylvania's case, local school boards and districts - need clearer guidance on monitoring their performance.
Accurate data on academic performance, school safety, and parent satisfaction need to be systematically collected. The right decisions about closing poorly performing schools, improving good schools, and replicating excellent schools can't be made without that information.
The timetable for application, approval, and implementation of new charter schools also needs to be reexamined, and funds should be provided in a timely manner for smoother, less complicated start-ups.
Equitable funding: The current funding formula must be reviewed. The money allocated for charter schools and traditional public schools comes out of the same budget, but charter schools are getting only 80 to 85 percent of what's spent per student in traditional public schools.
The refrain that charter schools take money away from public schools is outdated and unfounded. Charter schools are public schools, and their students deserve an equitable share of the pie.
The law also needs to be modified to address several other issues, including:
Funding parity for special education and facilities.
Rules on enrollment lotteries.
Qualified staff to review charter schools' annual reports and financial statements.
Consistent definitions of who can contract for services with or work for individual schools.
Finally, any new legislation should have the teeth to compel school districts to comply with its provisions fairly and promptly.
We must revamp Act 22 in a way that preserves and encourages the best of what we have learned about charter schools. We must foster creative educational ideas and practices. And while politics will always play a role in education policy, it should take a backseat in this case.
Every child, regardless of where he or she lives, deserves a high-quality education. Decisions about schools should be driven by what's best for students, not adults.
Gerald L. Santilli is the founder of First Philadelphia Charter School for Literacy and Tacony Academy Charter School; a partner with the charter school business services provider Santilli & Thomson; and a former executive director of financial services for the Philadelphia School District. He is at firstname.lastname@example.org.