School Choice




Recent Issues

New Charter School Proposals Offer Hope for Thousands in Phila.

FEBRUARY 18, 2015 | News Availability by COMMONWEALTH FOUNDATION

This afternoon, Philadelphia families who have endured enrollment lotteries and thousand-student waiting lists may finally be granted more education options, as Philadelphia’s School Reform Commission will rule on 39 pending applications for new charter schools.

After 50 years of Union Control, Philly Schools Still Failing

JANUARY 29, 2015 | Commentary by JOHN BOUDER, JAMES PAUL

Academic failure, school violence, and financial mismanagement have been the dubious hallmarks of the School District of Philadelphia for decades. In that time, there has been one constant actor fighting tooth-and-nail to maintain the unacceptable status quo in Philadelphia’s education system: the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. 

Is Second Worst Good Enough for York Students?

NOVEMBER 10, 2014 | Commentary by JAMES PAUL

The second lowest-performing school district in Pennsylvania is asking for more time to improve but refusing recommended reforms. Unfortunately, more time is not something students and families in York City can afford.





Recent Blog Posts

A School for the City, Not a Fortress from the City

How School Choice is Building Communities

FEBRUARY 26, 2015

The plan was for Hudson to attend public school in Philadelphia—at least for one year. But after Andy, Hudson’s father, visited their neighborhood school, Horatio Hackett, he wanted something different for his soon-to-be kindergartner. Could classical school be a better fit for Hudson? 

At first, a private classical education didn’t seem like the most practical option for a 5 year-old. As far as Andy knew, classical education entailed speaking Latin. Sure, he was intrigued by Philadelphia Classical School (PCS)—a small, private school on the corner of 11th and Vine Street in Philadelphia’s Callowhill neighborhood. Andy heard good things about PCS, but would his family be able afford private school tuition?

Andy considered charter schools but found the enrollment process intimidating. Plus, he was concerned that Philadelphia’s School Reform Commission might crack down on charters in the coming years.

Thanks to the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC), Andy and his wife learned they could enroll Hudson in PCS.

Reserved for students in Pennsylvania's lowest-performing public schools, the OSTC provides hope in largely hopeless situations. The program has helped thousands of students escape failing schools. Both the OSTC and the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) allow businesses to contribute to private scholarships in exchange for tax credits, so students like Hudson can receive high quality education.

More than halfway through his first year at PCS, Hudson excels in the classroom. His favorite subject is “handwriting,” he’s becoming proficient at reading, and he regularly impresses his father with knowledge of history.

“How does a kindergartner know about Mesopotamia?” Andy asks incredulously. He’s also blown away that Hudson can recite all 44 U.S. presidents in chronological order.

Hudson blogPCS opened in the fall of 2013. It’s a small school—serving 38 students from 29 families—but plans to expand, according to Ross Hatton, Head of School, and Katharine Savage, founder, at PCS. While the school’s mission is Christ-centered, not all families share the same religious background. Some are non-religious, others are Mormon or follow orthodox traditions. Many students are second-generation immigrants, and the PCS student body speaks six different languages at home.

The full cost of PCS tuition is $12,145, though most students pay significantly less. In fact, 40 percent of seats are reserved for low-income students, and the average cost for each family is $4,500. PCS provided over $250,000 in financial aid during the current school year, including nearly $30,000 through Pennsylvania’s EITC and OSTC programs.

PCS worked with Hudson’s family to find a suitable tuition arrangement. Hudson received an Opportunity Scholarship to cover 75 percent of the cost—and a private donor pitched in to pay the remaining balance.

Just as no parent is turned away for inability to pay, no prospective student is turned away for lack of academic ability. The current kindergarten class has a wide range of skills—some students could read before the first day of school, while others came to PCS without basic understanding of the alphabet. 

PCS is not “skimming” from public schools; its mission is to be part of a revitalization of education in Philadelphia. Indeed the school is breaking down economic and social barriers to build a stronger community.

PCS regularly organizes family events, such as pot-luck dinners and ice skating. Parents even launched a Google Hangout Group where families can ask questions and discuss issues unrelated to school. Where’s the best place to buy children’s pants that won’t rip at the knees? Can anyone recommend a babysitter? These are all questions that families discuss online.

For Andy, “it was very important that PCS be a school for the city, not a fortress from the city.” He urges other parents to “be part of the solution” to public education and community involvement, “but don’t sacrifice your own kids to that solution.”

Jess Scott, mother of PCS second grader Maggie, shared Andy’s concerns about walling herself off from traditional public schools but wouldn't "sacrifice her kids to an ideology." According to Jess, “PCS saved our family” and is a “gift to our kids.” The Scotts live in University Place, but cannot afford typical private school tuition. Jess had to go back to work just to afford PCS’s discounted rate.

Maggie PCS

It’s obvious that families truly care for one another at PCS. There is no better example than one family who anonymously paid for another student’s school uniform. “I wanted to make Saniyah feel supported and encouraged,” the mom explained. The family purchased Saniyah’s uniforms for the current year and then made a pledge to continue this practice for the rest of Saniyah's career at PCS. Recently the family moved to New York, but they intend to keep their promise to Saniyah. “We’re always looking for ways to serve and this was something we could do. We made a commitment.”

Thanks to Hatton and Savage's vision, as well as the EITC and OSTC programs, PCS occupies a unique space in Philadelphia: A classical school that strengthens communities, brings families together, and offers hope for a brighter future.

posted by ELIZABETH STELLE, JAMES PAUL | 05:18 PM | Comments

Thousands of Philly Students Left on Waiting Lists

FEBRUARY 23, 2015

The long, frustrating wait continues for Philadelphia families desperate for educational opportunity.

Last Wednesday, Philadelphia’s School Reform Commission (SRC) rejected 34 of 39 charter school applicants. Five charters were approved, albeit with substantial restrictions and conditions. Each approved school must enroll significantly fewer students than it requested, and each school received a three year charter instead of the customary five year agreement.

All of the approved applicants currently operate high performing charters in Philadelphia: Independence Charter School West, KIPP Dubois, MaST Community Roosevelt Campus, Mastery Gillespie Campus and TECH-Freire. Each operator runs a school with a School Performance Profile score exceeding 70 (the district average is 56.8) and substantial enrollment of low-income students. In other words, their students outperform Philadelphia's traditional public schools, even though they spend fewer dollars per-pupil.

These are exactly the type of innovative, successful models that district leaders should promote and encourage. Independence, KIPP, MaST and Mastery sought to open a combined nine new schools—yet only four were accepted, and each with strings attached. For example, MaST's Roosevelt application intended to enroll 1,575 students in the first year, but the SRC is limiting them to 400 seats. 

These approved schools will provide life-changing opportunity for approximately 2,600 students over the next four years. Sadly, though, tens of thousands of other Philadelphia students remain trapped in schools they’re seeking to leave.

Opponents of expanded choice in Philadelphia decry “fixed costs” as the main reason to block new charters, but the district is already revising down the projected charter school price tag—despite continuing to use the disputed $7,000 per-pupil stranded costs estimate.

Jerry Jordan, president of Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, criticized the SRC for approving any charters whatsoever. Jordan also thanked SRC member Marjorie Neff for voting against all 39 applicants.

What’s the next step for denied charter schools? Appeal. For the first time in 14 years denied applicants can petition the State Charter Appeal Board to reverse the SRC’s decision. According to Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera, the seven-member Board may not consider the financial impact a proposed charter will have on the district, which should allow each school to be evaluated on the merits of its application alone.

Given the strength of many Philadelphia applicants, perhaps there is reason to be optimistic about a favorable appellate ruling. In the short term, however, school choice remains out of reach for far too many Philadelphia families.

posted by JAMES PAUL | 03:30 PM | Comments

Audio: School Choice is More than Just a Concept

FEBRUARY 9, 2015

Every child deserves access to the best educational opportunity available to them, especially if quality education is hard to find in their local public school district. School choice is already more than just a concept for tens of thousands of students across the state and it is growing in popularity—Pennsylvania’s impressive 173 charter schools being one example.

James Paul, a CF senior policy analyst, outlines the state of school choice in Pennsylvania by describing Pennsylvania as a “pioneer of school choice.” But lawmakers still have work to do to expand educational opportunity and better allocate tax dollars to fund students’ education—rather than continuing to fund a broken system.

One of the best parts about school choice, as James points out in a recent radio interview, is that it supports accountability in the educational system.  James says that if a charter school, for instance, is “not providing good services or improving results in the classroom” it should not be permitted to continue operating. That level of customer accountability is rarely seen in traditional schools.

Listen to some of James’ interview with Gary Sutton on WSBA 910 AM:

The Gary Sutton Show airs daily on WSBA 910AM in the York area.

Follow Commonwealth Foundation’s SoundCloud stream for more of our audio content.

And for mobile listening, get the SoundCloud iPhone and Android apps.

posted by JONATHAN REGINELLA | 02:10 PM | Comments



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