top of page
  • Writer's pictureRachel Langan

Everything You Need to Know About RTKs

Updated: Nov 29, 2022

The “Right to Know” law (RTK) is also known as "Freedom of Information Act" (FOIA). Utilizing RTKs can be a powerful way to ensure transparency when dealing with government organizations, including school districts. The documents procured through RTKs will help the reader to see what is going on behind the scenes. RTKs are factual, primary source documents, and as such, are reliable sources of information.

Q1. What is a Right to Know request?

A Right to Know request (RTK) is your key to unlocking what is happening behind the scenes at all levels of government. The government (from your local municipality – including your school board – all the way up to the federal government) is the keeper of public information. This information is available to any taxpayer upon request. Requests must be specific, and the requestor is required to fill out a form to get the process started. (More on that below.) A government entity must respond to a request within 5 days and may take an additional 30 days to answer the request. A requestor can appeal to the state if they believe that the government entity failed to deliver the information to which the requestor is legally entitled.

Q2. Why would I want to submit a RTK?

A. In Pennsylvania, the education of children is the primary responsibility of the school district.) Our school district administrators makes recommendations to our school board, and our school board votes on whether or not to implement district recommendations.) However, many times the stakeholders behind the decisions that are being made are special interest groups, such as certain parent or community groups, the teacher’s union, the PA Department of Education, or even the PA Department of Health. Submitting a RTK helps the requestor to figure out who is behind the decision-making and may give insight into what the motives are behind the decisions that are being made.

Q3. How do I submit a RTK?

For best results, when submitting a RTK, keep in mind that you should:

  • Make a statement rather than asking a question.

  • Be specific: request key words, specific documents, and/or data that covers a specific range of dates.

  • Example: Please provide the average SAT scores for WCASD students for the years 2019, 2020, 2021, and 2022.

Q4. Does the school district have to give me the information I am seeking?

A. No. There are quite a few exceptions to the RTK law, and an agency will not provide information that falls under an exception.

Q5. Do I have to pay for RTKs?

A. No. However, there may be a fee associated with a request (such as a per page charge for printing).

Q6. Is it morally or ethically wrong to request documents that are private records?

A. Government agencies are funded via tax dollars (including school districts) and that means that any documents generated by that agency are public record, and thus subject to RTKs. (There are some exceptions, see Q4 above.) The agency (school district) is simply the keeper of the documents, but the taxpayers are the owners of those documents, and as such: you, the taxpayer, have a right to know.

Q7. I’ve heard that RTKs cost the district a lot of money. Isn’t this a waste of tax dollars?

A. Each government entity is required to have a RTK officer (this person is an employee, not a police officer, unless you are dealing with a township, in which case the officer might also be a police officer.) The RTK officer is a paid employee, and that employee will get paid regardless of the number of RTKs requested. In the WCASD, most/all requests go to legal review before being released the requestor. This is an extra step (and extra cost) taken by the WCASD (not all entities send their documents to legal review) that does cost extra money as an attorney is paid by the hour to approve/deny/redact certain pieces of information before releasing that information to the requestor.

While there is more to know about RTKs, this should be enough to get you started, should you wish to submit a RTK of your own. Let us know in the comments if you have a question that wasn’t answered above, and we’ll do our best to include your concerns in a follow-up post tomorrow.

If you’d like our content delivered directly to your inbox, click here and scroll to the bottom of the page to sign-up.


bottom of page