Legislative Concerns: Charter Schools

Understanding the Issues Impacting Public Education in the Commonwealth and the Fox Chapel Area School District

Part 2: Charter Schools

Overview:

Through Act 22 of 1997, the commonwealth allowed the creation of brick and mortar charter schools. In 2002, Act 88 authorized the creation of cyber charter schools. Charter schools are public schools designed as an innovative educational alternative to traditional public schools. As such, they are free of many of the mandates governing regular public schools. For example, while charter school students are required to take the PSSAs and Keystone Exams, charter schools are exempt from many state mandates that hold public schools accountable for their scores, such as the state- designed teacher evaluation system.

Charter schools are reimbursed by the local school districts using a per pupil formula with some deductions. Charter schools often serve children from multiple school districts. Regardless of the actual cost of educating a child at a charter or cyber charter school, the state mandates that the home school district pay its per pupil fee to the charter. Not only does this mean that a charter school may be collecting vastly different amounts per pupil, but also, in some cases, amounts that far exceed the cost of actually educating that child. Charter schools have self-appointed school boards and are not held accountable to the local school district’s school board.

Implications for the Fox Chapel Area School District:

Charter schools’ ability to tailor themselves to meet specific student needs can create a “cherry-picking” effect on the student population. At the same time, large payouts to charters represent a significant drain on district resources, hindering the district’s ability to implement programs that might be more reflective of the community’s needs. For example, the same dollars, if kept in district, may equal those required to start a whole new program like preschool or language immersion.

Last year, the Fox Chapel Area School District spent about $700,000 for charter school students to attend six charter schools, including five cyber charter schools. When looking at the School Performance Profile, Fox Chapel Area has consistently and significantly outperformed the charter schools in math, English and science. Furthermore, while the tax contributors to Fox Chapel Area School District have multiple avenues for transparency within the district – such as a publicly elected school board, multiple advisory committees open to the public, accountability through state- mandated tests – many of these mechanisms do not exist at charter schools.

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