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

    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.

    An award-winning political journalist with more than 25 years' experience in the news business, John L. Micek is The Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. Before joining The Capital-Star, Micek spent six years as Opinion Editor at PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa., where he helped shape and lead a multiple-award-winning Opinion section for one of Pennsylvania's most-visited news websites. Prior to that, he spent 13 years covering Pennsylvania government and politics for The Morning Call of Allentown, Pa. His career has also included stints covering Congress, Chicago City Hall and more municipal meetings than he could ever count, Micek contributes regular analysis and commentary to a host of broadcast outlets, including CTV-News in Canada and talkRadio in London, U.K., as well as "Face the State" on CBS-21 in Harrisburg, Pa.; "Pennsylvania Newsmakers" on WGAL-8 in Lancaster, Pa., and the Pennsylvania Cable Network. His weekly column on American politics is syndicated nationwide to more than 800 newspapers by Cagle Syndicate.

    2 COMMENTS

    1. My six year old daughter
      Summer May , class President of 1st grade ,was attacked on her way to her reading class ,a older male boy picked her up and took her down to the school basement and put his hand over her mouth and told her to be quiet, my child was afraid for her life she fought him and got away and made it back to her teacher,when I got to my child she was very afraid and shaking,i call the police and made a report and requested a meeting at the meeting the boy said he wanted to kill my child he was 302and return back to school ,I asked for help for my child ,a safety plan, support and nothing was done , after the love and support from my family and friends summer was granted a emergency transfer to a new school this is so wonderful and exciting and sad today my child cries because she started her new school, she knows that she is safe but she will be missing her teacher and friends ,.
      I am starting this campaign for my daughter to help get her light back, her energy, her strength, her drive for life, I would like to put summer and some type of art program, sports program, anything that will help her be whole again I’m asking for support financial support because I will sign up for different things but as you know it’s at a cost an unexpected cost please find it in your heart to help us to help Summer heal ,
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      Please show Summer that there is good in the world

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