For 133,000 children across Pennsylvania, charter schools do more than provide an education. Charter schools provide an alternative for kids whose needs aren't met in district schools—they provide hope.
Unfortunately, Pennsylvania has an educational opportunity problem. Pennsylvania kids need more educational options, but only local school boards, the direct competitor of a charter school, can approve charters. That leads to a lot of denied applications.
Recently, the Reading School Board denied a performing arts charter school from opening for the fourth time in three years. The school’s founder, Dr. Thomas S. Lubben, also founded the 46th best high school in Pennsylvania, Lehigh Valley Charter High School. The proposed charter school was modeled directly off of Lehigh Valley, but was denied in a 6-to-1 vote.
When it comes to approving new charter schools, the incentives are all wrong.
When district public schools have to compete with other public schools they become better. Dozens of studies confirm that educational choice boosts student achievement and improves public schools. This was evident in Ambridge in 2010, when an incoming charter school with full-day pre-kindergarten and kindergarten led neighboring public-school districts to accelerate their own full-day offerings.
The benefits of competition aside, charter schools are more efficient. They serve students at a lower cost for tax payers and with better results. This difference can be upwards of $3,000 per student.
In addition, charter schools can be specialized for individual needs. Fine arts, STEM, and cyber charter schools all provide a unique learning experience for a child with particular skills or needs.
These schools provide options that benefit students across the state, while saving tax payers money in the process.
Pennsylvania families need more high-quality options, including more charter schools.
Giving a local school board the final say on charters is a conflict of interest. Pennsylvania needs to adopt an independent, or alternate, authorizer. This alternate authorizer is external from the school board and is only concerned with how best to use taxpayer money to provide local children with a high-quality education.
Those on the independent authorizing committee would be experts in education. States like Ohio and Minnesota use not-for-profit organizations as their authorizers. This process puts accountability to families above local politics.
Every child deserves the opportunity to thrive. It is time to put the education of students first and provide a fair pathway to more quality education choices.