Shortly after announcing his troubling plan to restrict student access to schools of choice through executive actions, Governor Wolf tried to add positive spin via Twitter:
Pennsylvania’s current charter school law doesn’t hold charters to the same standards as public schools. As a result, the education of many of our students is suffering.
It’s time to hold charter schools accountable to taxpayers and the students they serve. Here’s my plan ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/S3XvrqWP5q
— Governor Tom Wolf (@GovernorTomWolf) August 22, 2019
“…the education of many of our students is suffering.”
Wolf is right. Many Pennsylvania students are suffering and in need of relief. Stories from Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, Scranton, and Penn Hills highlight the lack of transparency, accountability, and opportunity in certain districts across Pennsylvania.
But the Governor’s solution is backwards. Rather than create more opportunity for thousands of students already on waitlists for charter schools or tax credit scholarships, Wolf is using his executive authority to cut charter funding, limit charter school enrollment, and ban new cyber charter schools.
The highest form of accountability is to parents: when parents have multiple options and the ability to send their child to a different school if they’re not satisfied. Speaking at a National School Choice rally in January, student Lilian Graston—now a senior at Esperanza Cyber Charter School—explained how education choice changes lives. “For me, I needed another option. I’ve seen other students go from failing and struggling, to success.”
Sadly, the students Wolf is targeting can ill afford funding cuts or arbitrary enrollment limits. Pennsylvania charter students are disproportionately low-income and minority, yet they receive 27% less funding than district students.
By trying to lay district schools’ failure—and their “suffering students”—at the feet of charters, Wolf implies the absurd. Can the 21% of Pa. students who choose to attend private and charter schools possibly be responsible for 100% of the problems in the Pennsylvania education system?
Bizarrely, Wolf actually thinks they are. In fact, he’s explicitly stated that all kids should be forced out of their school of choice to be educated “through our public school system” (by which he means district schools).
But the Governor wasn’t always opposed to district school alternatives. Wolf attended an elite boarding school in the 1960s; under Wolf’s leadership as CEO, the Wolf Organization donated $60,000 to EITC in the 2000s, receiving $54,000 in tax credits; and as Wolf often mentions, his wife was a founding member of a York charter school in the 2010s.
But as Governor, Wolf has blocked student choice and opportunity at every turn.
The answer is straightforward—but sad. Since 2013, Wolf has received $4 million in teachers’ union PAC money. His actions are an effort to appease teachers’ union leaders, who oppose student choice because districts have been losing enrollment to mostly non-unionized charter and private schools.
We all support transparency and accountability, but that is not what the Governor’s plan would achieve. Lawmakers should urge Wolf to work with them on charter school reform—as they’ve already been working on improvements. A suite of charter reform bills that would hold charters accountable to quality standards has passed the House and awaits action in the Senate.
Our kids deserve better than funding cuts, arbitrary enrollment limits, and outright bans on new schools. They deserve policies focused on their needs and their futures, not a turf war between rival school systems.