Charter School Advocates, Governor Battle in Pennsylvania

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

The end of summer brings with it the start of a fresh school year. However, while students sharpen their pencils and gather their textbooks, charter schools continue to remain a topic of division between the Pennsylvanian government and charter school advocates.

Funding for charter schools has been an area of debate within the state in the past and most recently has been a point of contention for government expenditure. A report out last week from the Pennsylvanian School Boards Association states that spending on administration requirements for conventional schools is around half of what is spent on charter schools, which spend more on services and facilities.

Pennsylvanian Governor Tom Wolf announced changes to the oversight of charter schools following the unsuccessful introduction of a House Bill over a year ago, which aimed to implement new funding formulas for charters and establish authorization boards. Instead, Gov. Wolf has announced a new division in the Department of Education, which will be solely dedicated to the sector, writes Kevin McCorry from Keystone Crossroads.

In a statement, Gov. Wolf explained that:

"Charter schools play an important role in our education system, but that role must be accompanied by 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."

The charter school model is contentious and lawmakers are being urged to consider revising the state's charter school legislation, with the State Auditor General Eugene DePasquale stating that Pennsylvania has some of the least effective charter schools in the country, writes Katherine Schaeffer from The Times Online.

Tim Eller, spokesman for the Keystone Alliance of Public Charter Schools, says many of the announcements made by Gov. Wolf are already being performed and are "a duplication of services", reports Kathy Boccella of The Philadelphia Inquirer.

At a panel discussion on charter schools on Wednesday at the Pyramid Club in Center City, Farah Jimenez, the president/CEO of Philadelphia Education Fund and a member of the Philadelphia's School Reform Commission said that a major issue regarding charter schools is the requirement for a high level of parent engagement, writes Darryl Murphy of the Philadelphia Public School online publication The Notebook.

Jimenez offered the following critique of the sector at the forum:

"[T]here is an affirmative, active role that a parent or family must play in order to get their child engaged with the charter sector. It requires their choice, their activism, their enrolment, their application…"The bigger question, really, is how does one engage parents and community with the District schools, where you can be a passive consumer of that service? That's where the work really needs to go."

Murphy also outlines that other panellists raised points at the forum regarding the need to look to international models of charter schools to understand more about what works and what doesn't work.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Movement for Black Lives are calling for a ban on the expansion of charter schools due to a lack of transparency and oversight, writes Murphy.

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