Capitolwire: Charter officials skeptical of Wolf’s new division of charter schools.
August 26, 2016
By Christen Smith
HARRISBURG (Aug. 24) — Gov. Tom Wolf’s new division of charter schools got off to a bad start Wednesday, just moments after the administration announced the new office within the state Department of Education.
“The fact that no charter school has been consulted in the creation of this office is not a good start, but we will see how the office is funded and staffed and watch closely what it actually does,” said Bob Fayfich, executive director of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools. “We are cautiously optimistic, but the charter community has been burned before and our honest initial impression is that it may be another effort to undermine school choice in Pennsylvania, regardless of the statements in the press release regarding improving quality and accountability.”
Fayfich, an outspoken critic of the administration’s treatment of charter schools over the last two years, wasn’t alone in his skepticism.
“While the Keystone Alliance welcomes the Wolf administration and the department’s willingness to work and partner with brick-and-mortar charter schools, as the saying goes, ‘the devil is in the detail’ as it relates to the administration’s actual intent with the creation of this division,” said Tim Eller, executive director of the Keystone Alliance for Public Charter Schools a former PDE spokesperson with the Corbett administration. “While the department already has statutory oversight of cyber charters, by law, oversight and accountability of brick-and-mortar charters currently is under the purview of the school district(s) that granted the charter.”
Eller said the “duplicative” initiatives outlined in the press release — including auditing, developing educational programming policy and establishing student achievement measures — have long been available to all public schools, including charters.
Wolf said in a statement released Wednesday he wanted to accompany charters “important role” in public education with “sufficient oversight.”
“Establishing this new division within the Department of Education will allow us to maximize our resources to not only ensure charters are being properly supported, but that they are being held accountable to taxpayers,” he said.
PDE Secretary Pedro Rivera called the division the “next step” in streamlining communication with charter schools to “help ensure they receive needed technical assistance from the Department, and ensuring that all public schools in the commonwealth are held to the same high-quality standards.”
Fayfich says he isn’t convinced of the administration’s intentions, though he will remain “cautiously optimistic”
“If this initiative is consistent with other actions by the Governor relative to undermining the viability of charter schools, regardless of how effective they are in educating children, then we are concerned with this new Charter Office,” he said. “If, however, it is truly dedicated to listening to charter schools and improving public education for all students in Pennsylvania, then we will be supportive.
We are anxious to work with PDE on this initiative if we are invited to do so, but time will tell the real purpose and value of this new Charter Office.”