I want to address several issues tonight, but first, I am going to revisit the testimony I gave at the last two meeting for the vote on new charter applications. It bears restating. It concerns your belief that legally the SRC can not take into account the impact that the added costs of any new charters would have on district school students.
On two occasions David Lapp, formerly of the Education Law Center, testified that legally you can take that impact into account. He pointed out there is no dispute that the district currently is not in a financial position to afford more charter schools without damaging the “existing system.” He stated that the statutory text of the charter school law leaves the options for what districts can consider wide open, and also specifically contemplates the impact on the “public school system.” He further advises that not only is there no risk to doing this, but that you may be hurting the district by not raising these issues.
As for the current applications, where is the innovation? At PCCY’s presentation of their report on PA charter schools, PA Representative James Roebuck pointed out that charter schools were intended to be laboratories of innovation, but that has not been the case, and we now have a system of two separate and unequal school districts. It only takes one look at the MaST, Franklin Towne buildings and student demographics to see what he means.
At this month’s Policy Committee meeting where policy 406 concerning charter amendments was discussed, several charter school representatives were scheduled to speak. Only one spoke for all of them—someone who hadn’t signed up, but who the Committee graciously allowed to speak. What I heard was the complaints of a group of people who felt entitled. Entitled to receive whatever concessions they demanded: Private meetings away from the public gaze. Autonomy with no real accountability. Expansion without standards or merit.
I saw that same sense of entitlement when I read the applications and their evaluations. Entitled to open another school despite questionable governance and financial practices and circular leases. Entitled to include business and first class travel expenses in their proposed budget. Entitled to use school children as an excuse to expand their real estate holdings. Entitled to postpone the opening of one school while they use their connections to undermine Dr. Hite and takeover another school. Entitled to open a school that is designed to market the political agenda of another country.
I understand this sense of entitlement comes from our disaster of a charter school law and from the political, financial and social connections of the CMOs. But, I think it is time you thought about what the district’s students are entitled to. They are entitled to safe and healthy buildings, rich resources, and the staffing they need to thrive. You cannot provide this for them if you continue to drain your budget by approving these new charter school applications. District school students matter, too. It is time to put them first.