About 15 years ago, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania created the concept of charter schools. These schools were to be free of the entanglement of most state regulations. They also were to be bastions of innovation. They were thought to become the saviors of some of our inner city schools and those that appeared to b e failing.
Private people, not for profit organizations, local residents could apply to local school districts to create these charter schools. There was also an appeal process to allow a rejected charter school to go to the state and have the local school boards decision overturned. It appeared to be an opening to create more choices for parents and students.
The charter schools did not have to hire or fire by seniority. They were not organized by the teacher’s union. They could allow teachers the flexibility of working longer hours without their confreres looking at them askance. There were so many hopes among educators and legislators and parents alike that this would be a wonderful experiment that would spread across the Commonwealth.
Fifteen years later, nothing of the sort has happened. The advent of cyber charter schools, the only advantage of charter schools is that private entrepreneurs can now make tons of money off the taxpayer.
As far as one can tell the innovation theme does not exist in 95% of the schools. Many of the schools are operated by management companies, whose only aim is the bottom line. If one looks at the SATs of even the “good” charter schools they are abysmal and in most cases do not measure up to the school from which the children came.
The financing of these new schools (called public schools) comes from the local school district. It does not come from the state. So, we have poor school districts who are cutting like mad to make up for state shortfalls these last few years, losing funds to charter and cyber charter schools who do not have to cut at all.
There is now an auditor general’s investigation in to some of the charter schools and finding that money is being spent on administration and profit and not on the children. The cyber charters charge (the tuition rate of the school district) about $3,000 more than the cost of the programs. Not only are school districts being ripped off in this way, but in the process of closing schools with few children.
No community wants to lose its school. In rural areas, a school might even have as little as 50 students and the community does not agree with the school board about closing it. The district budgets the closing and saves some dough. However, the community applies for and gets a charter school from the state (it goes to the appeal board). The district is now out even more money than before it closed the school.
To the new breed of profiteer (the management or those who run the charter or cyber charter schools); each child stands for a significant amount of money. Their profit margin is huge. They do not have to fulfill the normal regulations. It’s the newest scam in which we are selling our children.