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Your View by Pa. Coalition of Public Charter Schools: Why the state should approve charter reform bills

In the June 1 Your View (“Why tighter controls are needed for charter schools”), the superintendents of the Allentown and Bethlehem Area school districts claim that the charter reform bills currently being considered by the General Assembly “undermine local control,” “wreak financial havoc” and “allow unfettered expansion of charters.” Unfortunately for the readers of The Morning Call, the statements made by superintendents Thomas Parker and Joseph Roy are just another example of the misleading rhetoric created and spread by special interest groups that don’t support school choice.It is time to put an end to the unfounded, negative rhetoric on charter schools that we see in our state by bringing the focus back to public school students and their best interests.The reforms contained in the four charter reform bills (House Bills 355, 356, 357 and 358) would benefit both students and taxpayers by correcting significant limitations in the charter school law that make it very difficult for charter schools to properly serve their students. These changes include: strengthening the ethics and transparency standards for charter schools; standardizing the application, renewal and amendment process for charters and school districts; allowing charters greater access to facilities that meet the needs of their students; and giving charter students the ability to participate in dual enrollment programs, like their peers in district schools.To be clear, charter schools are now, and will continue to be, held accountable to the local school districts who authorize and renew them, and the families who choose to attend these schools. In no way is the local authority or control of elected school boards undermined by these bills.Ana Meyers, Executive Director, Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter SchoolsIn terms of the authors’ concerns about the increasing amount they send to charter schools for student tuition, superintendents Parker and Roy conveniently left out the most important piece of the discussion regarding charter funding … the taxpayer dollars follow the student. In other words, school districts pay a per-pupil amount to charters, which means the reason that charter costs are increasing is because more students are fleeing districts for charter schools.What they also failed to mention is that school districts actually benefit financially from every student who chooses a charter school because they get to pocket 25% of a student’s per-pupil allocation. The Pennsylvania Charter School Law outlines this in Section 1725-A. These are taxpayer dollars that a district gets to keep even though they don’t have any responsibility for educating these students.Lastly, for the authors to claim that House Bills 355, 356, 357 and 358 would cause unregulated expansion of charter schools is absolutely untrue. But for the sake of the thousands of students on charter school waiting lists across the commonwealth, we wish it were true. Many charter school students come from low-income families who want an alternative to their school district but do not have the financial resources to send their child to a private school.Charter schools are a public school option for some of the commonwealth’s most at-risk students, but those who benefit the most from traditional public education systems want to force these families to stay in failing school districts.If you were a parent of a student getting ready to enter the Allentown School District, wouldn’t you be concerned that 16 of the district’s 22 schools rank in the bottom 15 percent of Pennsylvania’s district schools (listed by the state Department of Education based on combined mathematics, Algebra 1 and reading/literature scores) and the district’s graduation rate is only 71.1 percent (for comparison, the two charter schools authorized by Allentown serving high school students have graduation rates of 86.7 and 100 percent)?Then there’s the Bethlehem Area School District, which isn’t performing much better, with eight of their 22 schools landing in the bottom 15 percent of the state’s district schools and only graduating 83.8 percent of their 12th grade students (as a comparison, the two charter schools authorized by Bethlehem Area serving high school students have graduation rates of 94.4 and 97.4 percent).Instead of participating in a campaign against charter schools, it would be in the best interest of the students they still serve if superintendents would focus their attention on addressing the failures of their own schools. In the meantime, we will continue to fight for commonsense changes to Pennsylvania’s Charter School Law to ensure that charter schools can continue to provide the quality educational experience every child deserves and so many districts are failing to provide.Ana Meyers is executive director of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools, the state’s largest advocacy organization representing public charter schools.
Source: Morningcall

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