A Commonwealth Court ruling on Tuesday could pave the way for charter schools outside Philadelphia to expand their operations and take on more students.
In a 2-1 ruling, the court overturned an earlier decision from the state’s Charter Appeal Board that blocked the Lehigh Valley Dual Language Charter School from expanding its operations beyond a single school building.
The LVDLCS argued it was unable to find a single building large enough to accommodate its growing enrollment, and tried to change its charter to allow a second location but was denied by the school board of the Bethlehem School District, where it operates. State law allows charter schools in Philadelphia to operate at multiple locations, but it limits all other charter schools to single locations.
In the majority opinion, Judge Renee Cohn Jubelirer said the court would not rely on “permissive special provisions” that allow charter schools in only one school district to expand.
That rule, she wrote, prohibits “the ability of all other charter schools in other school districts to amend the terms of their existing charters to allow the charter schools to make the fundamental decisions that would allow the school to continue to operate, such as adding a second location for existing students.”
Carlos Lopez, co-founder of LVDLCS, said in a statement: “Our goal is to provide a solid educational background for our middle school students. We are pleased that this ruling clarifies for other charter schools in this state whether or not they can operate in two separate buildings outside Philadelphia.”
The school, which runs from kindergarten through eighth grade, plans to house students in sixth, seventh and eighth grades at the new location.
The court ordered the state Charter Appeals Board to hold another hearing on the question of whether the charter school can open a second location, thus giving the school district a chance to oppose those plans for other reasons.
The court ruled in 2012 that two other charter schools were allowed to expand their operations beyond a single location, and Jubelirer leaned heavily on those decision in the majority opinion.
In a dissenting opinion, Judge Dan Pellegrini wrote the majority opinion “conjures up” a questionable rationale for overturning the board’s decision about LVDLCS, based on cases that should not have served as legal precedents.
“The charter school law only permits an application for a charter school, and not a charter school district, except in Philadelphia,” he wrote. “In analyzing the law, it is clear that only one location is allowed for one charter.”
As an interesting footnote to the decision — or a comment on the oddly intertwined familial relationships in Pennsylvania politics — consider this: Judge Jubelirer, who wrote the majority opinion in this case, is the wife of former state Sen. Bob Jubelirer, who was president of the state Senate when the charter school law at issue was passed in 1997.
Jeff Jubelirer, who is Bob’s son and Renee’s stepson, now works at a Philadelphia public relations firm and lists charter-school advocacy groups among his clients.
Eric Boehm can be reached at Eric@PAIndependent.com and follow @PAIndependent on Twitter for more.
The Pennsylvania Independent is a public interest journalism project dedicated to promoting open, transparent, and accountable state government by reporting on the activities of agencies, bureaucracies, and politicians in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. It is funded by the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, a libertarian nonprofit organization.