charter schools

What Does The Changing PA Supreme Court Mean For Education Funding, Charter Schools?

Nov 9, 2015
Matt Rourke / AP Photo

  The results of last week's Pennsylvania Supreme Court election could have wide-ranging implications for a number of high-profile cases related to education issues in Pennsylvania.

Three Democrats swept the open seats on the state's highest court – shifting the balance of power 5-to-2 in their favor when they assume the bench in January.

Students attending 15 area charter schools collected $11,000 for the Homeless Children’s Education Fund to help ensure the estimated 3,000 homeless students in Allegheny County receive a proper education.

“The students grabbed the idea,” said Jeremy Resnick, executive director and co-founder of Propel Schools. “They did everything from penny wars between classrooms to putting on a big art show and selling tickets for it. There was just a huge range of activity across the schools that the students led, and it’s inspiring.”

Education Budget Makes Charter Schools Nervous

Mar 26, 2015

Advocates for Pennsylvania’s charter schools are worried that Governor Tom Wolf’s new education budget would force some schools to close their doors.

Wolf’s 2015-2016 education budget includes more money for preschool through college education, but one school group is feeling ostracized.

“Charter schools in Pennsylvania are already receiving far less per pupil than their traditional school peers,” said Kara Kerwin, President of the Center for Education Reform. “On average it’s about 30 percent less per pupil.”

Charter schools in the commonwealth have grown rapidly. Over a five year period beginning in 2006, enrollment in the state increased by 54 percent, and according to the most recent data, 6 percent of Pennsylvania students now attend a charter school.

But a study by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania at Penn State has found that charter schools are more racially segregated than their public school counterparts. 

Julian Routh / WESA

In wake of a report detailing alleged charter school fraud, members of the group Action United and other concerned parents took to the streets of Downtown Pittsburgh Thursday morning to demand more oversight from their local government.

Since 1997, there has been more than $30 million in proven or charged fraud, waste or abuse in Pennsylvania’s charter school system, according to the report released Wednesday.

Charter schools in Pennsylvania are defined by their flexibility and freedom from many state regulations.

A new study shows they’re also marked by their lack of diversity.  

Penn State researchers found “de facto patterns of school segregation along racial and ethnic lines” in a study of brick-and-mortar charter schools.

“They’re sorting themselves into homogenous schools,” said Erica Frankenberg, a member of the research team and an assistant professor at Penn State’s College of Education.

Traditional public schools and charter schools don't have the same rules when it comes to teacher certifications, but one new proposal would bring the two types of schools a little closer together.

State certification is required for 100 percent of professional staff at traditional public schools in Pennsylvania. Contrast that with charter and cyber charter schools, which are only required to have 75 percent of their teachers state-certified.

Forthcoming legislation from state Rep. Thomas Murt (R-Montgomery) would hike that level to 80 percent.

Despite its lengthy waiting list, the Environmental Charter School at Frick Park (ECS) was recently denied permission to expand by the Pittsburgh Public Schools (PPS) Board of Directors.

ECS is a K-8 school created in 2008 to provide alternative education with a focus on the environment. According to ECS Director of Innovation and Development Nikole Sheaffer, the school has a yearly waiting list of 400 to 500 students, and sought to expand to serve that demand.

A recently approved tweak to special education funding won’t apply to charter schools, after all. State lawmakers shied away from the changes after charters argued it would have been unfair.

There will be changes to the way traditional public schools receive any new funding for special education — it’ll be based on the needs of individual students and school districts, instead of being tied to an average special needs cost across the state.

From the creation of Pennsylvania’s charter school law in 1997 to today there has been greater public school choice in the state, and many charter schools are doing a good job. That’s one of the positives noted in PA Auditor General Eugene DePasquale’s audit of charter schools.

But DePasquale said there are still many challenges in the charter school system. His audit recommends increased accountability, transparency and effectiveness of charter schools and includes a recommendation to create an independent statewide charter school oversight board.

How can charter schools better help Pennsylvania students succeed? That is the question Auditor General Eugene DePasquale is asking.

At an information gathering session in Ross Township, DePasquale said they want to strengthen the accountability and transparency of the charter school system.

“Our goal in the hearings over the next three weeks is to provide really the best practices and also good points to the Pennsylvania General Assembly so they can take that, incorporate that, in updating and improving the Pennsylvania Charter School Law,” DePasquale said.

How are Pennsylvania school districts spending your tax money?

SchoolWATCH, a bill aimed at answering that question, was approved by the House of Representatives Monday.

It would direct the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) to create a website displaying the revenues and expenditures of traditional public, charter and cyber school districts in the commonwealth.

The legislation’s author, Representative Jim Christiana (R-Beaver), said they want to create an “easy-to-use” database.

A Pittsburgh-area state lawmaker wants charter and cyber charter schools to be regulated as strictly as public schools.

Sen. Jim Brewster (D-Allegheny/Westmoreland) introduced a package of legislation that aims to address issues with charter and cyber charter schools’ accountability, teacher certification and the need for high quality pre-kindergarten.

If passed, Brewster’s legislation would halt the State Charter School Appeal Board and the Department of Education from approving a new charter or cyber charter school.

Some education advocates are criticizing a state Senate proposal to revamp how public charter schools start, expand and receive funding because it would remove a check on the growth of the alternative schools.

A plan before a key legislative committee would allow charter schools to increase their enrollment without the approval of the school district that first authorized their charter.

David Lapp is a former charter school teacher and now a staff attorney with the Education Law Center.

Tammy Terwelp / 90.5 WESA

“Where’s the moral outrage over the lack of equity in education,” asked Duquesne University Dean of Education Olga Welch who attended a recent community forum on the achievement gap held by 90.5 WESA.

“Where is it,” replied forum panel member Jeremy Resnick, a founder of Propel Charter Schools, “it’s missing.”

Dozens of parents, teachers and administrators crowded the Community Broadcast Center recently for a public forum as part of WESA’s Life of Learning initiative.

The head of the state's Office of Open Records is pointing a finger at public charter schools for being the "cancer" of the state's Right-to-Know law.

The testimony comes as lawmakers are in the midst of an effort to tweak the state's five-year-old law, which lets citizens request government records starting with the presumption that all such documents are public, putting the burden of proof on agencies, not citizens.

Charter school groups are giving bad grades to legislative proposals that would reduce what they receive in funding from their local school districts.

One of the more tense exchanges in a recent state House committee hearing on proposals that would mean less funding for charter and cyber charter schools came during a back and forth on the quality of the education provided at the publicly-funded, privately-run schools.

As state lawmakers consider proposed changes to funding cyber charter schools, larger problems with how public education is funded are drawing attention.