Speakers question charter school funding

By Eleanor Chute / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

State Auditor General Eugene DePasquale doesn't think the Legislature is moving fast enough to revise Pennsylvania's charter school law to address funding and other issues.

So in Ross Tuesday, Mr. DePasquale began a series of five public meetings with the goal of issuing recommendations and then pushing for them in the Legislature over the summer.

State Sen. James Brewer, D-McKeesport, also participated.

The six speakers at Tuesday's session addressed a wide range of issues, including who should authorize charter schools, how much the schools should be paid and what their impact is on school districts.

Two bills are pending in the Legislature addressing some of the issues, but Mr. DePasquale doesn't think they are comprehensive enough.

Hazel Blackman, a mother of seven who is chairwoman of ACTION United's Western Pennsylvania Regional Council, said her organization is not anti-charter but "we are opposed to the reckless and unregulated growth of charters without a thorough examination" of various impacts.

Jenny Bradmon, executive director of the Pennsylvania Families for Public Cyber Schools and a parent of two children who attend a cyber charter school, opposes reducing funding, saying, "Please treat cyber students the same as you treat other students. My children are not second-class students."

Linda Hippert, executive director of the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, called for revising the amount of tuition the state requires home school districts to pay charter schools.

In the 42 Allegheny County suburban districts, Ms. Hippert said, the fee for a regular student ranges from $7,719 in South Allegheny to $14,298 in Quaker Valley even though the students may be attending the same charter school.

While the state-required payments are the same, she maintained the costs of providing cyber education are "substantially less," noting the AIU provides a full cyber program to some districts for $5,500 a year.

Bricks-and-mortar charters currently are chartered by school districts, but Jeremy Resnick, co-founder and executive director of the Propel Schools Foundation, said school districts generally make "poor charter authorizers."

Outside Pennsylvania, he said universities and organizations formed expressly for approval and oversight of charter schools have helped to ensure quality.

Catie Stephenson, public affairs manager for the Pennsylvania Campaign for Achievement Now, said low-performing charter schools should be closed.

Eleanor Chute: echute@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1955.

Posted on February 25, 2014 .