Charter School Law; Timeliness of Decision Not to Renew Charter
Eastern Univ. Acad. Charter Sch. v. School Dist. of Philadelphia, 2020 WL 3886021 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2020) (unreported), allocatur granted Apr. 7, 2021, appeal docket 16 EAP 2021
This case arises from the School Reform Commission of the School District of Philadelphia’s (SRC)’s decision not to renew the Eastern University Academy Charter School (the Academy)’s Charter pursuant to Section 1729-A(a) of the Charter School Law (Causes for nonrenewal or termination), which states, in relevant part:
During the term of the charter or at the end of the term of the charter, the local board of school directors may choose to revoke or not to renew the charter based on any of the following:
(1) One or more material violations of any of the conditions, standards or procedures contained in the written charter signed pursuant to section 1720-A [of the Charter School Law, 24 P.S. § 17-1720-A].
(2) Failure to meet the requirements for student performance set forth in 22 Pa. Code Ch. 5 (relating to curriculum) or subsequent regulations promulgated to replace 22 Pa. Code Ch. 5 or failure to meet any performance standard set forth in the written charter signed pursuant to section 1716-A [of the Charter School Law, 24 P.S. § 17-1716-A].
(3) Failure to meet generally accepted standards of fiscal management or audit requirements.
(4) Violation of provisions of this article.
(5) Violation of any provision of law from which the charter school has not been exempted, including Federal laws and regulations governing children with disabilities.
(6) The charter school has been convicted of fraud.
Slip op. at 28 (emphasis added by Commonwealth Court). The Academy appealed the nonrenewal to the State Charter School Appeal Board (CAB), arguing that, inter alia, “based upon the plain language of section 1729-A(a) of the Charter School Law the School District was required to render its decision on whether to renew the Academy’s Charter prior to the June 30, 2017 expiration of the 2012 Charter term—for which renewal was sought” and that the District’s failure to meet this deadline extinguished the District’s right to seek termination or nonrenewal of the Academy’s Charter for the term that has passed. CAB rejected the Academy’s argument, concluding that the plain statutory language of section 1729-A(a) does not require nonrenewal proceedings to conclude before the end of a charter term, and affirmed the nonrenewal. The Academy appealed to Commonwealth Court.
Commonwealth Court held that section 1729-A of the Charter School Law does not contains a mandatory deadline by which a school district must decide whether to renew a charter which is expiring, concluding that:
Section 1729-A sets forth the specific grounds upon which a school district may revoke or not renew a school charter. The clear and unambiguous language in the Charter School Law reflects that the statute does not contain any definite or specific deadline by which the SRC had to issue its decision on the Academy’s nonrenewal. The language is permissive, not mandatory, and provides simply that a school district may decide to revoke a charter during its term or to not renew a charter at the end of its term. It gives the school district two choices: (1) it may decide to “revoke” a charter during its term; or (2) to not “renew” a charter at the end of its term. Here, the Academy’s Charter was expiring and the Academy submitted an application to renew. Pursuant to section 1729-A of the Charter School Law, the School Board was limited to the grounds enumerated in that section when making that decision. Section 1729-A says absolutely nothing about any deadlines by which a school district must render its decision to revoke or not to renew.
The language “during the term of” is a reference to the school district’s ability to “revoke” a charter during its term. The language “at the end of” simply relates back to the school district’s ability to decide not to “renew” a charter at the end of its term. Taken to its logical conclusion, the Academy’s argument is tantamount to asserting that a school district can never decide not to renew a charter under the Charter School Law unless the nonrenewal proceedings are completed “by” the end, or prior to or on the expiration date of the charter school’s charter. If the Legislature intended to require a school district to issue its final decision not to renew a charter by a particular date or prior to the expiration of the charter term, it would have clearly indicated there was a deadline to do so in the Charter School Law. Such mandatory language does not appear in the Charter School Law, and we decline to expand the provisions by adding to it the requirement that a school district must issue its decision not to renew a charter on a date prior to the end of the charter term.
Slip op. at 29-30.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted allocatur as to the following issue:
Is a school district’s decision to nonrenew a charter school’s charter agreement untimely where the decision has been rendered after the expiration of the charter term for which renewal was sought?