Editorial, DelCo Times, 10/14/12
Talk to anyone in education circles in this state, and the conversation quickly turns to two topics.
Tongues are usually wagging about funding, which seems to decline every year, and charter schools, which increasingly are being blamed for part of that fiscal dilemma.
Those in the realm of public education believe the charters are siphoning off desperately needed revenue. That’s because when students make their “school choice” with their feet, leaving a public school for a charter, the state funding follows them. And it’s the local district that’s on the hook for the bill.
In the Chester Upland School District, where a flurry of charters are now home to almost half the students in the district, that amounts to a huge funding crisis. Last year, as the district teetered on the brink of collapse, Chester Community Charter School, the biggest charter in the state, hauled the district into court because Chester Upland had not forked over money the charter was owed.
And it’s not only Chester Upland. In Upper Darby, where parents were up in arms after the district announced a series of cuts and curriculum realignment, officials point to the growing financial drain caused by charter schools.
Across the state, taxpayers are now on the hook for $1 billion for what amounts to school choice, students enrolled in charter and cyber schools.
Given the growing influence – and cost – of charter schools, you would think the public would want to know as much as we possibly can about their operation and their financial dealings, given the increasing amount of public dollars flowing into their coffers.
Likewise, you would think that the ability to create charter schools would best be kept in local hands, where that facility is likely to have the most impact.
That’s why a few things bubbling up in Harrisburg are particularly troubling.
One proposal would restrict the public’s access to the financial records of the private management firms that operate charter schools.
In other words, they will gladly take the state’s money, just don’t expect much in the way of details on how it’s being used or other financial aspects of the companies involved.
Make no mistake, the charter school explosion in Pennsylvania has become a big business, a very lucrative business.
This newspaper has been in a legal tug of war for years with Vahan Gureghian, whose firm operates Chester Community Charter School. He insists that as a private entity, the public has no claim to see his books. We disagree, noting the amount of public funding his school receives. It’s still rattling around in court.
Now Harrisburg appears ready to allow the charters to do just that. The plan was part of an amendment in a special education funding bill. The new wording at first looks promising, in terms of bringing charter schools under the auspices of the state’s fairly new Right-to-Know law. But as usual the devil is in the details, or in this case, the semantics. The amendment waves its magic wand, granting an exemption by declaring “records of vendors of local agencies shall not be accessible.”
Guess what the charter schools are listed as? If you said local agencies, you get an A-plus, students. Somewhat surprisingly, the proposal is the work of local state Rep. Tom Killion, R-168, of Middletown….
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