By Lawrence F. Jones Jr.
A flurry of media activity has swept the city in the wake of the School District of Philadelphia's fiscal crisis. This activity has produced some misinformation regarding charter schools. It's time to set the record straight.
Charter schools are funded by taxpayer money that is passed through the home school district of each student choosing the charter option. Before passing through those funds, districts take up to 21 deductions from the average cost per student. In Philadelphia, this means that charter schools are receiving about 78 percent of what the taxpayer is paying per student to the district, while the district retains the balance. In other words, charter schools are doing more with less.
Yet charters have been accused of draining district budgets and being run as for-profit businesses. The truth is, the vast majority of Philadelphia charter schools are small, nonprofit, community-based, independent entities run by community boards and serving the same children as the traditional schools with equally dedicated teachers.
The financial viability of every charter school in Philadelphia is tied to the district. Not only do charter schools receive substantially less funding than traditional schools; they lack the ability to raise taxes or to obtain bridge loans facilitated by state-bolstered credit ratings. When school districts fall into financial crisis and cease to work collaboratively with charter schools, the ability of charter schools to plan for the future is destroyed. What results is uncertainty, which causes increased costs and administrative challenges for charter schools, which ultimately hurts the students that charters and the District exist to serve.
The Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools is optimistic about working in a spirit of true collaboration with the district, one in which charter schools are treated as partners, not as adversaries or outsiders. We commit to the opportunity to advocate with the district, and support increased education funding for all public school students if:
The district acknowledges through its words and actions that the additional funding it seeks is needed for all Philadelphia public schools, including charter schools, and that any additional funding flows through to charter schools in a fair and equitable manner.
We all work to ensure that funding fixes are not artificially developed by cutting charter-school funding through unilateral approaches that exclusively benefit the district at the expense of public charter students
A commitment is made to create a high-quality authorizer with sufficient resources to provide fair and balanced charter-school oversight, and whose decisions are based solely on objective measures such as academic performance.
The School District is in serious financial crisis. While we all need to pull together during these tough times, we reject any strategy that would cause any public school student to suffer. Poor decisions by previous district leaders cannot be undone, but enlightened educational and political leaders must now work together, with the financial realities of today, and without any agenda other than what is best for the children of Philadelphia. We welcome that dialogue.