is a board member of the Philadelphia School Partnership and vice chair emeritus of the Center for Education Reform in Washington
The 40,000 students on charter school waiting lists in Philadelphia have high hopes as the School Reform Commission starts to review new applications for the first time in seven years.
More than 40 nonprofit charters submitted applications on behalf of tens of thousands of families; many of these families have been kept at bay for years while demanding better educational opportunities for their children. They are hoping that their voices will finally be heard.
The discussion about charter schools is filled with politically charged rhetoric, is rarely about what parents want, and is almost never about individual schools' results. So as the School District gears up to review the new charter applications, let's hope they look at the facts:
Fact 1: Many charter schools are doing a far better job educating the students who are the most challenging to educate. Out of 194 public schools in the city with student populations that are at least 80 percent economically disadvantaged, only 17 are "on the right track," according to the most recent Pennsylvania School Performance Profiles. Out of those, 12 - more than two thirds - are charter schools.
Fact 2: Charter schools are serving about one-third of students citywide but are only costing taxpayers about 29 percent of the district's overall budget. In fact, charter schools only get about 75 cents on the dollar for each student compared with what traditional public schools receive per child. These schools are not only doing a better job for our children; they're doing it more cost-effectively than the traditional system.
Fact 3: Last year, the district spent a whopping $140 million on schools that scored below 40 on the most recent School Performance Profiles. These are schools that are simply not meeting the needs of students and their families by any measure. It is outrageous to tell parents that we just can't afford to educate their children when there are outstanding schools and leaders ready, willing, and able to get the job done.
The budget crisis has made things more difficult for everyone. All public schools - charters included - have felt the pain of budget cuts and spiraling pension and health-care costs. But the choice could not be clearer: In a budget-constrained environment, do we continue spending a mountain of money on schools that have not delivered results for decades (since long before charter schools or that other often-cited bogeyman blamed for school problems, standardized tests)? Or, do we invest those dollars in growing what we know is working right now for families?
The SRC has an opportunity to end the practice of denying families what works in order to prop up schools that have never met the needs of their students.
It's not surprising that hundreds of parents rallied recently in front of the School District's headquarters to thank the SRC and the legislature for accepting new charter applications. Over the past seven years, those parents have been told to wait. And wait. And wait some more - while we spend dollar after dollar on schools that aren't working.
For the first time in nearly a decade, we have a chance to replicate great charter schools like KIPP, Mastery, Esperanza, Boys Latin, Freire, and others. For the sake of those families, and our city, let's not miss this opportunity.