At this week’s launch event for PCCY’s new charter school report, a packed house representing every opinion, pro or con, on charter schools rallied behind a single message: Pennsylvanians are paying for a lousy charter school law.
The state’s charter school law is missing key provisions that produce high quality charter schools and at the same time prevent shutting down poorly performing charters, posits PCCY in “Expanding High Quality Charter School Options,” the report which is now available for download HERE.
Two years ago, when the Auditor General called the law “the worst in the nation” and not a single voice objected, PA’s dismal charter school law stopped being an embarrassment and turned into a recognized crisis for the state.
One year later, legislators tried to push through a woefully inadequate response to the needs of 135,000 PA students in charter schools in the form of House Bill 97, which threatened to spawn a host of more problems than it even attempted to solve.
PCCY’s solution is boiled down to a simple checklist for improving charter school quality for legislators, educators and families. The checklist is a valuable new tool that could significantly improve HB 97. It’s organized around four key principles:
Only approve high quality applicants
Let high quality charters grow
Close failing charter schools
Set clear charter application, renewal, amendment and expansion evaluation standards
When Pennsylvania passed the law enabling charter schools in 1997, it provided these new forms of schools with greater flexibility and fewer mandates than traditional schools which were supposed to boost performance.
“The problem is that the vast majority of charter schools are not performing better than their public school peer schools,” says Tomea Sippio-Smith, PCCY’s Education Policy Director. “The best way to ensure that students can attend high quality charters is to put the tools into state law that have a laser focus on quality.”
Here’s what happens when the focus isn’t on high quality charters. According to the 2016 PA System of School Assessment (PSSA):
Statewide, about 42% of all charter school students test on read on grade level in reading and while a scant 21% of these students were tested as proficient in math.
Cyber charter school students performed much more poorly–, about 62% of cyber students failed to meet grade level expectations in reading and about 85% of cyber the students did not pass math.
135,000 students deserve better, as does every taxpayer in the commonwealth.
Near the end of the report launch event, a single voice hushed the room and had heads nodding in agreement. Delaware County’s Republican State Representative Jamie Santora said chronic underfunding of education exacerbates the friction between public schools and charter schools.
Education funding has not kept up with the rising population in Southeast PA nor has it been adjusted for shrinking Central and Western PA, and the state’s new fair funding formula remains largely neglected. The vast majority of charter seats are in the Southeast.
“For the most part, it’s the Southeast versus the rest of the state,” Rep. Santora explained.
But the law impacts us all. As will the life prospects of those students struggling in low performing charter schools. That’s why we must do better.
We announced $65k in new arts education grants this week for Philly schools at the 15th Annual Picasso Awards! Thanks to Mayor Kenney, Superintendent Hite, members of Council, and the many students, teachers, artists who joined the celebration.