Charter schools fought to be an option — part one of series
July 18, 2011
by Ed Mahon, Centre Daily Times
Elizabeth Eirmann knew middle school could be a challenge for her son. She figured that if Samuel fell behind then, it would be hard for him to catch up later. And she didn’t want him to get lost in a crowd. “I take education seriously for my kids,” she said. “I’m their advocate.” So she started looking for options outside the Bellefonte Area School District, where he attended elementary school. As a parent in Centre County, she had more choices than most Pennsylvania families.
“The three key areas where charter schools are located in Pennsylvania are Philadelphia County, Allegheny County and Centre County,” Penns Valley Superintendent Brian Griffith told the Bellefonte school board at a meeting this spring.Centre County has four “brick-and-mortar” charters, publicly funded schools that are similar to traditional public schools in many ways but are run by independent boards. Another — the K-12 Sugar Valley Rural Charter School in Clinton County — is near the Centre County border and draws about 20 students from Penns Valley each year.
Also drawing students from Centre County schools are cyber charter schools, which deliver instruction via the Internet. When it comes to which districts have the highest charter school costs, State College Area ranks in the top 5 percent of Pennsylvania’s 500 districts. Penns Valley ranks in the top 16 percent; Bellefonte ranks in the top 22 percent.
The story of how brickand- mortar charters emerged in Centre County involves several Penn State Ph.D.s, a half dozen legal appeals, and a retired Army Ranger who wanted to return a favor to his wife.