|WHAT WILL GOVERNOR SHAPIRO DO NEXT?
The Shapiro Administration shocked advocates for quality schools by approving a new cyber charter school to operate in PA, the first time that’s happened in eight years. It’s shocking because already every one of the 13 cyber charters in PA are grossly underperforming, evidenced by being on the state’s watch list for failing so many students.
Why would the Shapiro Administration bring another player into a losing game? We don’t know.
What we do know is that Pennwood Cyber Charter doesn’t hold a lot of promise to turn the cyber charter game around. When the PA Charter Performance Center, a project of Children First, testified against Pennwood’s application, we noted that Pennwood had grandiose visions of enrollment numbers, PSSA results, and graduation rates that were way beyond what their national affiliate, Pearson Virtual Schools, or nearly every other cyber charter has ever achieved in the Commonwealth.
The Pearson-run schools in PA have less than 11% of their students able to hit modest benchmarks for reading or math. The state twice denied Pennwood’s application in part because we made a strong case that another school run by Pearson in PA would harm the prospects of children.
New Governor, New Day
The Department of Education’s decision to reverse its rejection of Pennwood Cyber doesn’t add up. In their appeal, Pennwood defended their ambitions for high levels of enrollment and graduation on what other Pearson schools had done in the past in PA, but then, quickly distanced themselves from Pearson regarding its past affiliation with Commonwealth Charter Academy, which is the lowest performing cyber charter in the state.
Not to be distracted by the internal contradictions in the application, Shapiro’s Department of Education approved the new charter for five years. And then crossed their fingers that the school would cure the problems noted by the Department in their two prior denials, by writing that the Department “expects Pennwood to take additional action” on six significant items, like demonstrating alignment of course standards.
Clear lapses in the application but they still got a passing grade? Confused? So are we but the failure to submit an acceptable application seems like typical cyber charter subpar performance. The state’s green light with unenforceable conditions was atypical, weak oversight to say the least.
The High Cost of Charters and Vouchers
What does add up is all the taxpayer money that’s being drained from local public schools. Charter schools were paid $1 billion by school districts last year, and they’re projected to soar by another $1.7 billion by next year. “Giving another school license to bilk school districts for a low-quality education flies in the face of any rational decision-making,” said Donna Cooper this week.
On top of that, the legislature ratcheted up funds for private school vouchers by topping out the state’s Education Improvement Tax Credit program at $405 million for this year. For a Democratic governor who touts his love of public schools and a state Republican party that pushes fiscal conservatism, draining nearly $1.5 billion from public education is perplexing, especially since the state court found that more funds are needed in public schools to meet constitutional muster.
It’s pretty clear where Governor Shapiro stands on cyber charters and private school vouchers – he supports them. We’re eager to see how much he supports public schools when he releases his budget plan on Tuesday.
There’s reason to be optimistic. His team endorsed the Basic Education Funding Commission’s recommendation to add $5.4 billion to public schools so every child can learn. Will the Governor show us that he is as committed to public education as he is to private schools and cyber charters by what he proposes in his budget address next week? Let’s hope so!
Tune in to the Children First 2024 Budget Olympics on Tuesday at 4:00 PM to find out.