The Lead

At Capitol rally, educators call for charter school funding reform, better oversight

By: - April 29, 2019 3:57 pm

Nathan Mains of the Pa. School Boards Association calls for charter school funding reform during a Capitol rally on 4./29/19 (Capital-Star photo by John L. Micek)

Pennsylvania school officials didn’t gather in the Capitol rotunda Monday to praise charter and cyber-charter schools.

Nor did they come to bury them.

Instead, realizing they’re stuck with the taxpayer-funded alternatives to traditional public schools, they called on state lawmakers to reform the way the state pays for them, and to insist on better academic performance from institutions that now serve tens of thousands of Keystone State school children.

To that end, about 200 educators rallied on behalf of legislation sponsored by Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Pat Browne, R-Lehigh, that sets up a new state commission charged with reviewing charter school funding.

Among the panel’s duties would be “[calculating] the actual cost of educating a child in a charter and cyber school,” according to a March 20 memo the Allentown lawmaker circulated among his colleagues, seeking support for the plan.

“Charter school reform that doesn’t address cost is missing the mark,” said Nathan Mains of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, which helped organize the lobbying effort.

The educators, who were primarily school administrators, also called for passage of companion House and Senate bills that would require parents to pick up the check for their children’s cyber-charter education if their hometown school district offers full-time online education of its own.

 

Eric Esbach, the superintendent of the Northern York Schools, in York County, said school districts have to accept the fact that students and their parents now live in an age where everything — from airline tickets to razor blades — are customizable and can be tailored to personal specifications. Education, he argued, has to follow suit.

But that doesn’t mean that the product has to be too pricey or inferior, which is the case with commercial cyber-charter education.

Cyber-charter schools have come under particular scrutiny because of the low academic performance of their students and their high cost. A 2018 report by the Pennsylvania State Association of School Administrators found, for instance, that districts pay, on average, $11,306 for every student, compared to $5,000 for district-run, online education programs.

“The taxpayers of Pennsylvania have purchased a low-quality product for an exorbitant price,” Esbach said. “If an airline or razor blade company tried that, they’d be out of business.”

In an interview with WHYY-FM in Philadelphia, Maurice Flurie III, CEO of Commonwealth Charter Academy, said he believed “charter schools would no longer exist,” if the House and Senate bills are passed and sent to Gov. Tom Wolf for his signature.

In a Feb. 20 op-ed for the Capital-Star, Ana Meyers, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools, called the attacks on public charter schools unfair, and argued that parents know what type of education suits their children best.

“Limiting the types of public school choice offered will not result in better outcomes for students,” she wrote.

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John L. Micek
John L. Micek

A 3-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. An award-winning political reporter, Micek’s career has taken him from small town meetings and Chicago City Hall to Congress and the Pennsylvania Capitol. His weekly column on U.S. politics is syndicated to 800 newspapers nationwide by Cagle Syndicate. He also contributes commentary and analysis to broadcast outlets in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Micek’s first novel, “Ordinary Angels,” was released in 2019 by Sunbury Press.

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