Selected readings on US charter schools
A total of 2,166 students are enrolled in the 19 such schools that operate in the Allentown area, including 1,761 in charter schools and 405 in cyber schools.
That means $19.6 million has been diverted away from the school district, which remains financially responsible for the students’ tuition.
“The growth of charter schools is an unfortunate reality we have to struggle with,” said Allentown School Board member Scott Armstrong. “The public school districts shouldn’t be bearing the financial burden that we are.”
This year’s enrollment figures are up from 2,007 last year, which itself was up from 1,562 the year before, said district chief financial officer Jack Clark.
Those figures have grown every year dating to at least 2003-04, when there were 364 students enrolled in cyber and charter schools.
Subsequently, the cost for the district has also continued to rise. Clark said only $3.1 million in tuition was diverted in 2004-05.
The district plans to expand its in-house online schooling program, the Allentown Virtual Academy, which it hopes will lure some of those students back to them.
“We feel the urgency of it,” said Superintendent Russell Mayo. “I’m not convinced we’ll ever have a day when we don’t have teachers in front of kids, but I do think there will be a combination of online” and traditional schooling.
Applications to establish new charter schools have come under great scrutiny from the school board in recent years, such as their rejection of the proposed Allentown Engineering Academy Charter School in February.
They have also been vocal supporters for reforming charter school funding at the state level, passing a resolution last year urging legislators to push for changes to the funding formula.
“I’m not sure Harrisburg understands when you have an urban school district like Allentown struggling to provide a curriculum, struggling to maintain reasonably sized classrooms, and the population sees this struggle and searches for alternatives, it just exacerbates the problems those urban districts face,” Armstrong said.
The school board currently has two proposals for new charter schools before them. No decisions have yet been made for either.
They heard arguments earlier this month for an arts-focused elementary charter school, and on Oct. 31 will hold a public hearing for the proposed Computer Aid Inc. Learning Academy Charter School.
The district’s charter school enrollment figures include 899 high school students, 707 middle school students and 560 elementary school students.
William Allen High School has lost the largest amount by far, amounting to 625, compared with 274 from Dieruff High School and 222 from South Mountain Middle School.
The Lehigh Valley Dual Language Charter School has the most Allentown students of the 19 cyber and charter schools.
They have 174 Allentown students, which is second to the Roberto Clemente Charter School at 148 and the Lincoln Leadership Academy Charter School at 140.
Allentown School District charter enrollment figures
• 2003-04: 364
• 2004-05: 473
• 2005-06: 526
• 2006-07: 569
• 2007-08: 721
• 2008-09: 784
• 2009-10: 1,036
• 2010-11: 1,264
• 2011-12: 1,562
• 2012-13: 2,007
• 2013-14: 2,166
Source: Lehigh Valley – by Colin McEvoy, The Express-Times