Fast Lies and Slow Truths

“A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting its shoes on.” The famous saying evolved from a similar Jonathan Swift maxim. It’s a good description of modern political debates—especially the ongoing debate over charter schools.

Fast lies and slow truths about the public schools that serve 143,000 kids abound.

For instance, opponents of charter schools regularly and freely assert that charters deliberately enroll special education students at the lowest tier of need, in order to maximize charter funding. This claim doesn’t add up for multiple reasons.

First, charters use a lottery enrollment system so they can’t cherry pick students with certain special needs. Secondly, Pennsylvania Secretary of Education, Pedro Rivera, stated on record that the department of education (PDE) does not have evidence of special needs overidentification at charter schools.

The following exchange took place at a recent hearing between Rep. Jesse Topper and Rivera.

Topper: “We’ve heard for many years now from education groups that charter schools overidentify or falsely identify special education students—maybe to up their funding. But I think the Department is responsible for monitoring that, is that correct? For special education, the identification process?”

Rivera: “We monitor the process of identification, so if there’s something egregious, we can flag it…”

Topper: “How many are flagged?”

Rivera: “…I can’t justify whether or not there’s overidentification.”

Click the link to watch Rep. Topper and Sec. Rivera.

Another related and persistent myth is that special education students at charter schools miss out on needs-based resources afforded to kids attending district schools.

For Zoe, a different learning enviornment was critical. As a student with ADHD, Zoe Chappell of Lehigh Valley struggled in a traditional learning environment. Her GPA slipped to 2.25, as did her mental and physical health. Zoe felt like a failure. But when she made the switch to an individualized learning program at Agora Cyber Charter, Zoe immediately started to succeed.

Zoe graduated with a 4.29 GPA, and is thriving in her first year at Mount Saint Mary’s University.The truth is all students—regardless of school type—deserve a student-based funding system.

Today, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Education, only 14% of the $1.2 billion Special Education appropriation is distributed based on categories of support for students with disabilities. The charter school tuition rate—which is flat—is then calculated by PDE based on each district’s own special needs funding, minus deductions.

Source: PASBO's Brief on Special Education Charter School Funding 4/28/14

The House of Representatives, led by Reps. Mike Reese and Jesse Topper, passed a package of charter reforms—House Billss 355–358—that update the Charter School Law, while preserving choice for families.

The Senate, likewise, passed SEn. Pat Browne’s plan—Senate Bill 590—to establish a funding commission which would tackle the current funding structure and propose a new one.

However, Governor Wolf is pushing legislation to limit parent choice and cut student funding. Wolf should work with members of both chambers to get good charter reform across the goal line, so Pennsylvania kids can continue to access the education that works for them.

It’s time to stop with the political gamesmanship, and start focusing on what kids need. One in five kids in the commonwealth, like Zoe, attends school outside their traditional school district. It’s time to stop treating them like second class citizens.