Selected readings on US charter schools
Charter schools provide Pennsylvania families with a vital and popular educational option, as evidenced by the tens of thousands of students currently languishing on waiting lists. Last week’s FBI arrest of the founder of a cyber charter in Midland, however, has thrust the issues of charter reform, fiscal transparency and school finance into the forefront in Pennsylvania. While this isolated incident is not indicative of wrongdoing throughout our charter system, it is a good reminder of why Pennsylvania needs to revise its charter school laws.
Pennsylvania has struggled for years to come to an agreement about how to comprehensively reform our 16-year-old charter enabling law. Charter and cyber charter schools are public institutions that receive public dollars. As such, the Commonwealth has a responsibility to ensure that charters serve both students and taxpayers well.
There have been numerous versions of charter legislation floating around the Pennsylvania Capitol Building, and many have contained important reforms aimed at ethics and transparency. As we begin to take another shot at updating our antiquated charter law with the recent introduction of Senate Bill 1085, fiscal transparency and the impact spending has on student achievement should be at the forefront of these discussions.
The call for more transparency when it comes to school spending and student achievement should not simply focus on one sector of our public education system, but rather on the entire system. It is nearly impossible to debate how to fund our schools wisely without knowing how school districts and schools are spending the money allocated to them and whether it is having a positive impact on students.
Had a system been in place that regularly tracks how all public schools are spending taxpayer dollars, an investigation similar to the one involving this former cyber charter CEO may have been avoided. The General Assembly has before them an opportunity to course correct and we encourage them to do so. House Bill 1411, if passed, would create a public website that documents school spending at the school district level. By going a step further and including charters and cyber charters in this system and asking for spending data and achievement data at the school level, the Commonwealth would be able to move far beyond basic reporting. Parents, taxpayers, and policymakers would finally be able to have an informed conversation about resources and accountability.
This recent incident should not spawn a movement to cut funds to charter and cyber charter schools or decrease educational choice in Pennsylvania — our students should not be the victims. But it should serve as a reminder to policymakers that there are a number of educational issues that need to be addressed in our state. Our students deserve nothing less than action.
Source: StudentsFirst Pennsylvania – by Ashley DeMauro