President Obama last week proclaimed May 1-7 “National Charter Schools Week,” praising charters for their “innovation” and calling on “[s]tates and communities to support high-quality public schools, including charter schools.” Yet, even as thousands of Pennsylvania students sit on charter waitlists, Gov. Wolf has taken every opportunity to undercut the state’s charters.
Education Savings Accounts (ESA) empower parents to design the best educational experience for their children.
Can Pennsylvania do better when it comes to educating our children? Absolutely. But playing “myths for money” will never lead to real solutions for families and students.
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It’s safe to assume Governor Tom Wolf and President Barack Obama agree on many policy issues. But when it comes to public charter schools, Wolf and Obama are worlds apart.
The president recently issued a proclamation honoring May 1 through May 7 as National Charter Schools Week. In his statement, Obama explained the important role charters play in America’s education system:
Supporting some of our Nation's underserved communities, [charters] can ignite imagination and nourish the minds of America's young people while finding new ways of educating them and equipping them with the knowledge they need to succeed. With the flexibility to develop new methods for educating our youth, and to develop remedies that could help underperforming schools, these innovative and autonomous public schools often offer lessons that can be applied in other institutions of learning across our country, including in traditional public schools.
Although charter schools are lifelines for tens of thousands of Pennsylvania families, Gov. Wolf’s policies are decidedly hostile to charter students. Consider his actions since assuming office:
- Last March, Wolf removed Bill Green as chairman of Philadelphia’s School Reform Commission (SRC) after the SRC approved merely 5 of 39 applicants from new charter schools. This was a clear message that even tepid support for charters will not be tolerated—and it prompted a lawsuit from Green seeking to regain his position as chair. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer—not exactly a bastion of school choice ideology—Green has a strong case.
- Wolf’s budget proposals in 2015 and 2016 each includes massive cuts to cyber charter schools—reducing their revenue by one-third—and deny all charters the right to save new funds in their “rainy day” reserves.
- Wolf undermined the recovery plan in York City School District, effectively forcing out the district’s chief recovery officer as retribution for his support of charter schools.
- Last summer, Wolf attempted to balance Chester Upland’s budget on the backs of special education charter students. Chester students are otherwise relegated to a school system Wolf admits “failed its students” and has been “mismanaged for over 25 years.”
A recent poll from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools finds nearly 8 in 10 surveyed support parents being able to choose their child’s public school. Over half of parents surveyed who are supportive of charter schools cited lack of access as the main reason they don’t send their child to a charter.
Perhaps Gov. Wolf should pay heed to the thousands of families benefiting from charter schools—not to mention President Obama—and rethink his opposition to these effective educational options.
Late on Friday afternoon, Gov. Tom Wolf quietly announced the fiscal code will become law without his signature. This significant development closes the door on a tumultuous year of state budget politics—and represents an important victory for public and private school children.
Just last month Wolf opted to veto the fiscal code, which included a fair funding formula for education spending, language authorizing businesses to receive tax credits for their donations to private school scholarship organizations, and state funding reimbursing school districts for construction and renovation costs.
Lawmakers responded to the governor's veto by passing a stripped-down version of the fiscal code—this time with strong bipartisan support and veto-proof majorities. Apparently Wolf saw the writing on the wall and decided to refrain from yet another veto.
Thanks to passage of the fiscal code, education spending above 2014-15 levels will be distributed through a rational formula that accounts for student enrollment. This formula includes recommendations presented by CF in testimony to the Basic Education Funding Commission.
Ideally, the formula would apply to the entire Basic Education line item—not only the new education spending—but the fiscal code remains a step in the right direction. Certainly, the formula is an improvement over Wolf’s preferred funding scheme which funneled millions to Philadelphia, Chester-Upland, and Wilkinsburg at the expense of 423 other districts.
Further, the finalized fiscal code allows businesses that made donations to the state’s popular scholarship tax credit programs to utilize their tax credits in either 2015 or 2016. Recall that last year the Wolf administration put a freeze on the scholarship programs—claiming student hostages and causing confusion for participating businesses. The technical amendment in the code will reduce administrative headaches for businesses and allow more students to receive scholarships.
A no-tax increase state budget, combined with a fiscal code that protects students, is a crucial victory for families and businesses in the commonwealth.
Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) empower parents to personalize the academic experience for their children, as CF explains in a recent policy brief. But ESAs are about more than school choice.
They are changing lives for families in need.
ESAs have only existed for a short time—enacted in 2011 in Arizona and 2014 in Florida. But the stories of children served—and saved—by these flexible spending accounts are growing by the dozens.
Jordan Visser, a nine-year-old in Arizona diagnosed with cerebral palsy and dyslexia, was one of the first children to benefit from an ESA. Thanks to his ESA, Jordan receives more individual time with a reading teacher for the visually impaired, as well as his physical therapist:
When Katie Swingle’s son, Gregory, was eighteen months old, doctors worried that Gregory’s autism would prevent him from being able to speak. But thanks to Florida’s ESA program, seven-year-old Gregory is not only speaking, he’s writing in cursive. Watch Gregory’s mother describe the impact of ESAs on her family:
Consider Max Ashton, an eighteen-year-old in Arizona born legally blind, who used the ESA funding for specialized education and college tuition:
Eighteen-year-old Max Ashton is an ESA recipient in Arizona. Max is an exceedingly bright and ambitious young man. He was also born legally blind and has additional needs in school. This is why, when given the option to use an ESA in 2011, Max’s parents jumped at the chance. Marc Ashton, Max’s father, said of the decision:
A blind student in Arizona gets about $21,000 dollars per year to educate that student. We took 90 percent of that, paid for Max to get the best education in Arizona—the best education in Arizona—plus all his Braille, all his technology, and then there was still money left over—still money left over—to put toward his college [tuition]. And so he is going to be able to go on to Loyola Marymount University…and do extremely well, because we were able to save money even sending him to the best school in Arizona over what the state would normally pay for.
ESAs were also life-changing for Kasey Locke, a six-year-old diagnosed with autism who was not best-served by the local public school:
Rebecca Locke was frustrated with her daughter Kasey’s academic progress. Six-year-old Kasey is autistic, and when she started kindergarten at the local public school, her parents worked with school officials to incorporate a new learning method, applied behavioral analysis (ABA), into Kasey’s school work. “We were looking for different modes of treatment for her and came upon applied behavioral analysis, and that’s the only treatment that’s been empirically shown to cause improvement.”
But her parents were frustrated because Kasey’s school couldn’t incorporate ABA methods into her full school day. It really wasn’t the school’s focus to use this type of treatment. “We did look into private schooling, but there was no way we could financially reach that.”
Then, when Arizona passed educational savings accounts into law, “it was almost too good to be true” for the Lockes. With an education savings account, Kasey’s portion of state education funding would be deposited into an account her parents could use for any educational services.
The education savings account has been life-changing for Kasey, who now attends Chrysalis Academy, a private school that incorporates ABA tools. Recently, Kasey visited her speech therapist, who was “amazed” with Kasey’s progress. Her parents say the education savings account has been “a huge success for us.”
The experiences of Jordan, Gregory, Max, and Kasey must be replicated for all Pennsylvania families seeking the same type of educational opportunity. Everyone deserves access to this life-changing program.