Charter Schools Aren’t Able to Deliver on their Promises
“Parents like me believed charter schools were going to give better options, better opportunities that they couldn’t get in [district-run] schools,” said Melissa Suarez, a Philadelphia mother of three special education students, at a press conference today. “Our charter school failed to give us what they promised.”
Melissa is not alone. Of the approximately 34,000 Black, Hispanic, and low-income students in charters more than half failed the state English assessments and three-quarters failed the math in 2019 (the latest year with valid state assessment results). A quarter century since the enactment of PA’s charter school law, the promise of charter schools remains unfulfilled, especially for students of low-income or students of color, according to a new PA Charter Performance Center report, What do PA Charter Schools have in Common with School Districts?
To be sure, some charter schools are hitting higher benchmarks for Black, Hispanic, and low-income students, but the 35 higher quality charter schools account for only 20% of the total charters in the state.
But the fact of the matter is that charter schools are generally doing as poorly as district-run schools because they are typically located in the same communities where schools are significantly underfunded.
“Black, Hispanic, and low-income families living in those struggling district-run schools often turn to charter schools as a saving grace, but the report shows that students are not finding an academic refuge in charters. If the district-run school is underfunded, charter schools in the district will also be underfunded,” said ML Wernecke, Director of the PA Charter Performance Center.
Meanwhile school districts are paying charters $2.6 billion, a sum expected to rise to over $3 billion in the years ahead. “The challenge is that we have a multi-billion privately run charter school system that that is not demonstrating any better results than the public schools, while at the same time handicapping the public schools by having them send billions out the door for charters,” said Dr. Joseph Roy, Superintendent of the Bethlehem Area School District.
The PA Charter Performance Center is advancing three recommendations:
1. Address the structural funding barriers that limit the progress of all schools.
2. Amend the Pennsylvania Charter School Law so school districts can authorize and expand enrollment in high-quality charter schools while shutting down charters that consistently fail to meet achievement standards.
3. Implement an accountability matrix to give local school districts the information they need to make good decisions about approving, renewing, or revoking charters.
Read the full report here.
A third of Philadelphia students attend charter schools and 59% of these students failed the state’s English assessments; 80% failed math. The School District of Philadelphia’s results are as dismal. This harm to students is so blatantly obvious that the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court confirmed that the equal protection rights of students in the state are substantially harmed by the state’s failure to provide adequate funds for every school.
Join Children First and other education advocates in Harrisburg on April 26th to demand the legislature step up and fund the schools – all of them!
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