Harrisburg – This morning, Governor Tom Wolf held a press conference at the Allentown School District to introduce his charter “reforms” which include executive actions to implement regulatory overhauls and changes to PA’s Charter School Law. The following is a statement from Ana Meyers, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools, on the Governor’s announcement.
“Pennsylvania’s charter school community – 180 schools educating 135,000+ students – was shocked to learn of Governor Wolf’s press conference this morning announcing his so-called charter reform package. Though the Governor often touts his willingness to bring stakeholders together to collaborate on issues affecting the Commonwealth, it seems that this only applies to stakeholders who share his political ideologies. Despite the Governor’s reform proposal having the potential to drastically impact PA charter schools and the thousands of families they serve, he neglected to consult any stakeholders from the charter school community in the drafting of his proposal. There is no way that Governor Wolf would ever think of proposing reforms that effect the operations of school districts or the teaching profession without consulting the special interest groups who represent these entities in Harrisburg. Furthermore, it seems that Governor Wolf is abusing his authority as we believe that some of what he is proposing through executive order and regulatory action is contrary to the law. This includes a “fee for services” that he is directing the PA Department of Education to institute for the work they do to implement the Charter School Law. It is outrageous that charter schools will have to spend taxpayer dollars, earmarked for educating children, to navigate the red tape that politicians and bureaucrats have created. We will be watching how the Governor implements his proposal in the coming days and weeks, and are prepared to challenge this administration in court if the Charter School Law is broken in any way.
If Governor Wolf was truly concerned about the issues he discussed during this morning’s press conference and collaborating on meaningful charter reform – that works for both school districts and charter schools – he (and his administration) could have engaged with the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools (PCPCS) over the last five years in our efforts to pass bipartisan charter reforms through the General Assembly. In fact, back in June when a package of bills were moving through the House (HBs 355, 356, 357 and 358) the sponsors met with the Governor’s staff who expressed their boss’ support for three of the four bills. What has changed in the last two months and why not work with the sponsors of these charter reform bills to address his concerns?
It is clear, with this proposal, that Governor Wolf feels that he knows what is best for the thousands of families who benefit from PA’s charter schools although during his time as Governor he has never stepped foot in a brick-and-mortar charter school or a cyber charter school (despite repeated invitations) to see how these schools are transforming the lives of students. And yet, he has the audacity to propose stripping these families with their right to choose an educational option that meets the needs of their children and trapping students in failing district schools, simply because they don’t have the economic means to access a better education. Some would go as far to describe this type of action as discriminatory to the economically disadvantaged and minority students who make up the majority of PA’s charter school population.
On the issue of equity, which the Governor and several speakers focused on during the press conference, we agree that the funding system for school districts and charter schools should be fair and equitable to meet the needs of every student. Despite what the Governor and the superintendents claimed, the funding system for PA charter schools is not determinantal to school districts…it actually favors them! State law allows school districts to pocket, on average, 28 percent of a student’s per-pupil allotment to cover the “stranded costs” that districts may have when a student chooses a charter school. For example, the Allentown School District, where the Governor held his press conference, gets to keep 32 percent of each charter student’s per-pupil allotment which rightfully should flow to the charter to support their education. Therefore, if a school district is “losing money to charters” it means that students are unhappy with the education they received at their zoned school district and have chosen to receive a public education at a charter school.
The Governor’s effort to improve the quality of public education would be a far more meritorious exercise to help children in the Commonwealth had he decided to hold all public schools accountable in this package including the many failing school districts throughout the state such as Philadelphia, Harrisburg, Allentown, Reading, York, etc., rather than focusing all his attention on public charter schools whose demand continues to grow exponentially year-after-year.
We should all support accountability for school academics, facilities and finances. Not one more child nor one more dollar ought to go into a school that is failing or unsafe, nor to pay anyone who is ineffective or unethical. And, schools with mismanagement ought to be fixed or closed. Why is it that the multi-billion dollar school district system is never looked at that way? Those children count, too. Their parents and guardians deserve support and taxpayers deserve to know what is going on in these schools and if they are effective. Yet, this Governor continues to turn a blind eye to the problems that many school districts have created for themselves and the students/communities they serve.
Despite the unfortunate manner in which Governor Wolf crafted and announced his reforms, and the blatant attacks on charter schools in much of his proposal, there are pieces of the Governor’s plan that PCPCS supports and are already included in the package of bills that passed the House in June. The charter school community agrees that every public school should be held to the same accountability and transparency standards. We also support a fair and balanced commission to study funding for both brick-and-mortar and cyber charter schools. But as is so often true in Harrisburg, the devil is in the details and we will have to review the Governor’s full proposal to see where collaboration/agreement can take place.”
The Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools (PCPCS), is the state’s largest and most active organization advocating for both brick-and-mortar and cyber charter schools. Pennsylvania’s 180 charter schools educate 37,000+ students and demand for these public schools continue to grow with more than 40,000 students on charter school waitlists.