Dr. Jon Marsh photo credit to Zamani Feelings.

On February 3, 2021, the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools (PCPCS) issued a statement in response to Governor Wolf’s 2021-2022 budget plan, lambasting the Governor’s proposed funding cuts to Pennsylvania’s public charter schools.  In short, the Governor proposes cutting nearly $230 million in funding from the schools that serve nearly 170,000 thousand students across the Commonwealth – schools that typically already receive 25% less funding than their “traditional” public school counterparts.  In Philadelphia, this would affect around 70,000 charter school students in 85 different schools, who are primarily minority and low-income, and who comprise nearly 30% of all students in the district.  The PCPCS characterized this proposal as “Reverse Robin Hood,” in that it takes funding from the already-disadvantaged schools and students and diverts it back into a traditional school system that has consistently failed to educate the city’s children despite operating with a nearly $3.5 billion budget each year.  Especially during the Covid-19 pandemic, which has wreaked havoc on the educational experience and academic advancement of low-income and minority students, more support is needed for Philadelphia’s most vulnerable children – not less.  During the pandemic, more than 20,000 families left “traditional” district schools to try to access the better-quality experience provided in a public charter school.  Governor Wolf proposes to cut the support to these schools in their most vital hour, when families are depending on them the most.  This is not in the best interests of the families that helped elect him into office – on the contrary, it will cause them direct and needless harm.

On April 26, 2021, Robert Lysek – CEO of Executive Education Academy Charter School and board president of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools – published a public statement in triblive.com, reiterating opposition to the Governor’s proposed budget cuts to charter schools.  David Rossi, CEO of Esperanza Academy Charter Schools, and Dr. Jon Marsh, CEO of Esperanza Cyber Charter School, also offer their support to this opposition.

David Rossi states:

“A fair funding system for Pennsylvania’s and Philadelphia’s schoolchildren would be a system in which, from both the state and local perspective, schools are funded at an equal rate per student (with potential variability only based on special-needs students). The irony of our current situation is that if school funding in Pennsylvania were truly fair, even more funding would go towards students who attend charter schools rather than less, since they are currently funded at a lower level. The Governor’s approach to education funding does not reflect this already-inequitable reality.   The Governor’s proposal hurts low-income communities as well as students of color, the same communities that helped him get elected. No child in the school system of Philadelphia or the Commonwealth should receive less resources and support simply based on which particular school they attend.  It is unfathomable to consider cutting education funding for any student in Philadelphia, and this only becomes more evident when considering the COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on all students, especially high poverty students of color. Our schools and students need more, not less, to recover from the damage inflicted this past year.”   

David Rossi photo credit to Zamani Feelings.

Dr. Jon Marsh states:

“When the Covid-19 pandemic first hit, and all schools were advised to close, cyber schools were best positioned to step into the gap and allow children to continue their education uninterrupted.  The school has been operating online since 2012, why would we close our “virtual” doors at a time when online education is the only option, and we are needed most?  Esperanza Cyber Charter School and many other cyber schools continued to serve our students and families with our online program, while also trying to help our peers and colleagues in traditional bricks-and-mortar schools make the transition to an online format.  In the spring, shortly after Governor Wolf announced that schools in Pennsylvania could open virtually, our Esperanza Cyber Charter School, along with over a dozen other cyber schools, offered to assist traditional schools and districts that wanted help moving to online learning.

In 2008, in his book Disrupting Class, the late Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen presciently predicted that by 2019 25% of high school classes would be taught online. Professor Christensen foresaw a path where charter schools would lead the way, and school districts would follow.  Before the pandemic, few school districts in Pennsylvania had online programs, and even fewer had any evidence it worked.  Those of us who work full time in online schools and carefully track our data, outcomes, and impact, know it can and does work.   Especially in this time of crisis, cyber schools’ infrastructure and expertise has been vitally important to lessen the harm our children will suffer.  Unfortunately, it seems that the Governor is not responding to the needs the pandemic has made even more urgent for our communities, families, and children.”

As noted by the PCPCS, “Charter schools are nonprofit public schools that are independently operated. That means the school’s administration has the innovation, freedom and flexibility to move quickly to meet challenges.” Further, “A recent poll showed that nearly 70% of Pennsylvanians supports public cyber charter schools as an educational option that should be available to families.” Charter schools served Philadelphia’s children better before the pandemic and pivoted immediately after the shutdown to continue serving their students.  The case for fair funding for charter schools is clearer than ever. 

If you are interested in fighting for fair public-school funding in Philadelphia, please contact Quetcy Lozada at qlozada@esperanza.us to learn how you can get involved.

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