Category: Charter School articles-info
POTTSTOWN — The push to reform Pennsylvania's 24-year-old charter school law, which this year will cost local taxpayers $3 billion, was reiterated in Pottstown Wednesday.
Gov. Tom Wolf, who proposed charter reforms in his budget announcement in February, was joined by Republican and Democratic legislators, school board members and school superintendents for a press conference held at Pottstown High School.
Calling Pennsylvania's charter school law, "among the worst in the nation," Wolf was in town to support the reform bill proposed by state Rep. Joe Ciresi, D-146th Dist., House Bill 272.
Under current law, charter schools are not transparent, and not accountable either for the taxpayer money they spend or on their results, Wolf said.
Cyber charter schools in particular "are the lowest-performing schools in the state, they graduate far less than two-thirds of their students. They are draining funds from local schools without accountability," Wolf said.
"When I saw the bill for our charter school tuition, I asked 'what's their curriculum? Can I see their budget?'" said Pottstown Schools Superintendent Stephen Rodriguez. But he can't because charter schools are not held to the same level of transparency as public schools.
In fact, in 2007 The Philadelphia Inquirer had to go to court to exercise a Right to Know request to force access to charter school records.
Traditional brick and mortar charter schools have a mixed record of achievement, but every cyber charter school in Pennsylvania is under an "improvement plan" from the Department of Education due to poor performance.
Tuition for these online schools is most outrageous, said Souderton Schools Superintendent Frank Gallagher because "they don't have the same expenses" as schools with heating systems, plumbing systems and transportation networks.
As the coronavirus pandemic forced school districts into online learning themselves, many parents moved their children to existing online charter schools, pushing tuition costs through the roof for school districts.
Pottsgrove School Board member Ashley Custer said her district's charter tuition rose by $800,000 this year alone, and that it's time for reform.
"Most school districts can provide as quality a cyber program as charter schools for a lower cost, and this year has proved it," said Gallagher. "They are one of the biggest drivers of school property tax."
Charter school tuition "is a hidden tax all property owners pay, whether they know it or not," said Rodriguez, who is also the president of the Pennsylvania League of Urban Schools.
"This is not about school choice, said Rodriguez. "This is about the funding formula, which is unfair."
"This does not take away school choice or close charter schools," Ciresi said. "It just makes the tuition payments a level playing field."
Among other things, Ciresi's reform bill would set a standard tuition for all cyber charter schools. Under the current law, cyber charter school tuition is determined by the amount the sending district spends per student.
"It doesn't cost any more for a cyber school to educate a student from Erie than it does from Upper Dublin," said Art Levinowitz, president of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association and the president of the Upper Dublin School Board.
"Every district is paying a different amount for the same education" from cyber charter schools, Levinowitz said.
State Rep. Tim Hennessey, R-26th Dist., who represents part of Pottstown as well as a large swath of northern Chester County, was careful not to issue an endorsement of Ciresi's legislation.
He noted however that the PA House of Representatives passed four charter reform bills in 2019, but they did not make it to the governor's desk.
"Charter schools met with a lot of resistance when they were first proposed in the mid-1990s," which may account for their resistance to reform, he said. "Old scars are difficult to heal."
He acknowledged that this year "there is momentum toward change."
"I think we have a bipartisan foundation of support for reform," Wolf said.
Pottsgrove School Board member Bill Parker said "as a proud Republican, I stand with Gov. Wolf in support of this bill."
He's not alone.
Ciresi said 400 of Pennsylvania's 500 school districts have passed resolutions calling for charter school tuition reform.
"This must pass this session, this budget cycle," said Ciresi. "This is the time to get this done."
Posted on 23 May 2021, 9:18 - Category: Charter School articles-info