Charter Schools, Part 2

Category:  News
Wednesday, March 4th, 2020 at 11:54 PM

Last week, I shared information about House Bill 1897, a bill that would rein in the runaway, unnecessary costs of cyber charter schools.  

In addition to HB 1897, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf announced in November that he would initiate efforts to contain the costs of charter schools.  He unveiled a plan that would:

1.) Establish performance standards that hold charter schools accountable for the educational outcomes of students, along with a moratorium on new cyber charter schools. 

This makes sense to me since public schools are held accountable. A moratorium on new cyber schools makes sense, as well, since all are failing. Why build another Titanic?

2.) Cap student enrollment in low performing cyber charter schools until outcomes improve. Yes! Why keep sinking money into unproven “educational reforms.”

3.) Require charter management companies be subject to the Right to Know Act, State Ethics Act, and also post employee salaries on PDE’s website, similar to requirements already in place for public school districts. 

School districts spend a great deal of time and money supplying information under the Right to Know law (many times that information we must produce is for private companies who use it to help stay competitive with pricing their products and services).  Cyber charter schools get around this by having private, for-profit companies be the “supplier” of content and equipment.  Much of the public dollars that go to cyber schools just pass through to that private company, and they will not respond to Pennsylvania Right to Know requests. 

There has been several cases of fraud prosecuted in regard to people running these companies behind the cyber schools.

4.) Create fair, predictable and equitable funding for school districts, including in the areas of special education funding and cyber charter tuition payments. 

As I mentioned last week, we pay a cyber charter school over $21,000 for a special education student. There is no way the needs of those special education students are being met online with an amount of service commensurate to what we pay. 

Wolf wants charter schools, including cyber charters, to get special education funding using the same formula that the state uses for school districts. (Wow, what a unquiet idea — pay the charter what we get paid.) 

Under that system, school districts receive funding for special education students based on a four-tiered formula that increases funding based on increases in needs. It is ridiculous that the charters are not be subject to the same level of funding for special needs students that school districts receive.

In addition to the items above, which will require legislative action, the governor has proposed changes to regulations in the areas of application requirements; admissions policies; accountability of boards of trustees; information related to charter school management companies; liability coverage; fiscal and auditing standards; funding for charter schools; and academic accountability.  These regulations are welcome and long overdue.

Of course, the beneficiaries of the “worst charter school law in the country” are fighting back. The Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools issued a statement which said, in part, “These parents (referring to charter school parents) pay their taxes and their children attend a PA-designated public school.” 

Yes, they attend a Pennsylvania designated school, and the state which designates them wants to regulate them to be more cost conscious. Welcome to our world! Don’t hide under “PA-designated public school” and expect to be exempt from the regulations all your fellow Pennsylvania designated schools deal with.

The statement also said, “There is no reason why charter school students deserve less financial support than their district peers.” Really? But you’re comfortable taking $21,000 from us for a special needs student, which the state only reimburses us for $4,000. 

Sorry, I’m not buying it.

The Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) from Stanford University released a report in 2013 which detailed the abysmal progress made by Pennsylvania’s online charter schools.  It should have been a call to action for the legislature at the time but, alas, NO ACTION. 

This past summer, CREDO released a new report on Pennsylvania’s cyber charters covering the period of 2013-14 through 2016-17. There was no improvement in student achievement, prompting the news release for the report to state, “the collective impact on students’ academic careers and later life outcomes remains of deep concern.” 

In my opinion, the discussion we should be having is not about regulations and payments to cyber charter schools, but rather, “does the evidence show public dollars should be paying for cyber schools?”  

Clearly, the research says no, but no one has the political will to even have the discussion. And yet, everything we do is to be “research-based” and “data driven.” Hmmmm..

For now, the aggrieved taxpayers of Pennsylvania will just have to hope there is some legislative action, in order to be gouged a little less for cyber charter schools.

Tags: cyber school

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