New study links Pa. charter school growth with loss of district resources
An Economic Policy Institute paper out this week has linked rapidly growing charter schools in some urban districts to a lack of resources and budget shortfalls in traditional school systems, leading to greater inequities for children overall.
The report released Wednesday, by Bruce D. Baker, professor in the Department of Educational Theory, Policy and Administration at Rutgers University, focused on public school districts that have experienced the largest shifts of students to charters — public schools run by private entities — including Philadelphia and Chester Upland.
In the 2015-16 school year, there were 132,840 Pennsylvania students enrolled in charter schools, more than half of them in Philadelphia, according to the state Department of Education. More than 150 brick-and-mortar charter schools and 14 cybercharters operate in the commonwealth.
Mr. Baker wrote that although charter schools are expanding in mostly low-income and mainly minority urban settings, that growth “is not driven by well-known, high-profile operators.” Traditional school systems, he continued, are “surviving but under increased stress,” a theme echoed by traditional school district representatives at a recent hearing on the topic.
“The impact on the residents in these communities is really profound, especially where finances are concerned,” Alan N. Johnson, Woodland Hills superintendent, said this week. He was among the school leaders who testified at the Oct. 13 proceeding in Monroeville that focused on the role of charter schools in Pennsylvania education.
Woodland Hills has lost more than 1,000 students to about a dozen charter schools, Mr. Johnson said. The district provides transportation for all of them and pays $11,000 a year in tuition for each student. For special-education students the district pays about $30,000.
“The financial impact is enormous. It’s going to be almost $18 million for Woodland Hills this year,” or about 20 percent of the district’s overall budget, Mr. Johnson said.
Charter leaders defended their schools, arguing that they can provide a quality option for students who can’t afford a private or parochial school but want to go somewhere other than their local district school.
“ZIP code doesn’t doom your life like it does now in traditional districts,” testified Anthony Pirrello, CEO of Montessori Regional Charter School in Erie.
But Mr. Baker’s study also reflected some of recent observations by Pennsylvania’s fiscal watchdog.
Few charters, he wrote, are “paying attention to the breaches of legal rights of students, parents, taxpayers, and employees under the increasingly opaque private governance and management structures associated with charter expansion.”
Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, who has called for charters to be subject to the state’s open records laws, in August said audits found that some of the same people who own and operate charter schools create separate legal entities to own the buildings and then lease them to charter schools. He has deemed Pennsylvania’s charter school law among the worst in the nation.
The study concluded with some recommendations, including timing charter school enrollments with district budget planning, creating incentives for districts and charters to share facilities and providing “transitional aid” to districts experiencing large waves of charter school growth.
State Sen. Jim Brewster, D-McKeesport, is expected to introduce bills to address charter school reform in early 2017.
The study is available at http://www.epi.org/publication/exploring-the-consequences-of-charter-school-expansion-in-u-s-cities/
Elizabeth Behrman: Lbehrman@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1590. Molly Born: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1944.New study links Pa. charter school growth with loss of district resources | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: