Charter schools are public schools. Why doesn’t Wolf’s budget treat them that way? | Opinion

March 17, 2021 6:30 am
Teacher and students in a classroom.

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By The African American Charter School Coalition and Philadelphia Charters for Excellence

During his February budget address, Gov. Tom Wolf announced a significant increase to public school funding, which we were very excited to hear. However, during the same speech, and again during a press event he had with lawmakers earlier this month, Wolf also shared his proposal to cut funding to another sector of public school education: public charter schools.

In Philadelphia today, we have roughly 70,000 children who are enrolled in public charter schools, more than 85 percent of them are minorities or children of color. Sixteen percent of charter school students are children with disabilities. That’s more than 10,000 children.

Every year, public charter schools have to fight to remain open, to be treated fairly in a public school system that not only provides oversight but in many instances thinks they’re in competition with our school’s existence. In a perfect world, there would be no need for charter schools to exist.

But charters exist – and are vibrant and essential public schools which provide a free public option just as partnership, magnet, and specialty public schools do.

When Wolf announced proposed budget cuts for special education funding to public charter schools, he did not mention cuts to any other sector of public schools.

Why is that?

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Proposing funding cuts for one public school sector and not all sectors is not fair, nor equitable.  These are among our city’s most vulnerable students who rely on their charter school to provide essential educational and therapeutic services. Reducing funding for the schools who serve large numbers of minority students, students living in poverty, and children with disabilities is not just unfair and inequitable, it’s cruel.

When the governor made this proposal, we surely hope he didn’t fully understand the impact it would have on our schools, our children, and their families, especially those who have historically been disenfranchised.  The $99M budget cut that the governor is proposing would be a $53 million loss to schools here in Philadelphia – more than half of the proposed cuts would be coming from our schools.

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In addition, that would be an average 45 percent cut to public charter school’s special education budgets which are currently providing services for children who need them. What happens when we are required to provide the same special education support with less funding?

That means, it can’t be done or not done as well. Then what happens? Public charter schools are held accountable by the School District’s Charter School Office (CSO) and Board of Education and it negatively impacts their scores when being evaluated. How is this a fair or equitable process? It’s not.

As if imposing a $53 million funding cut for special education is not enough, Wolf and his administration have continued to turn a blind eye to the lack of services and technical assistance provided to charter schools by the Philadelphia Intermediate Unit (IU).

Unlike other county where IUs provide technical support and special services at a reduced cost, Philadelphia only provides a modicum of support and no opportunity for charters in the city to purchase services.  Ironically, charter school students factor in the funding calculation for IU funding.

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If the governor wants to support all of Pennsylvania’s public-school students, he should examine how the Philadelphia Intermediate Unit functions, and he should ensure charter schools receive the support, services, and representation they are entitled to receive in order to provide appropriate supports for their students with disabilities.

Public charter school students are just as important, need just as many services, and should have the same access to resources as traditional public-school students, but too often that is not the case. Amazingly, as the governor proposes cuts to public charters serving disenfranchised students, he is also proposing state funding increases to some of the most affluent school districts in the state.

If Wolf follows this path, it will be painfully clear that the type of public school he funds is more important than the needs of our public charter school students here in Philadelphia.

The African American Charter School Coalition (AACSC) is made up of African American founded and led public charter school leaders and parents whose children attend these schools with the purpose of ending systemic racism and bias in public K-12 education by advocating for equity in education and by creating a non-biased system of charter oversight, renewal, and expansion for Black founded and led public charter schools. 

Philadelphia Charters for Excellence (PCE), is a non-partisan, 501c3 non-profit organization that since 2011, has worked to advocate, convene, inform and amplify the collective voice for Philadelphia’s brick-and-mortar public charter schools and the approximately 70,000 public school students they educate. PCE is dedicated to ensuring every Philadelphia public school student has the access and opportunity to attend a high-quality school of their choice, be it public charter or traditional district school. 

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