While State Representative James Roebuck’s recent report and legislation is aimed at reforming the state’s charter school system - especially in light of several reports that have cast a pall of suspicion on numerous charter school operators – there are operators who view Roebuck’s legislation as an attack on properly run and executed alternative education programs.
Roebuck’s report and legislation, introduced last month, calls for a withdrawal of state funds from the charter school system, pointing to the obstacles and fiscal mismanagement of dozens of charter schools throughout the state.
“These investigations and incidents are often reported only in dribs and drabs, and I feel it’s important for Pennsylvania families and taxpayers to have an overall picture. The Democratic Education Committee report is drawn from credible sources such as the Philadelphia city controller, the Pennsylvania auditor general and news media across the state,” Roebuck said at the time. “It shows investigations or problems at 44 charter and cyber charter schools, including the six schools covered in the state auditor general’s report and the school that had its charter revoked and is set to close in three months. My understanding is that 37 of the 44 schools mentioned in our report are still operating.”
According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, as of the end of the 2012 school year, there are currently 162 operating charter schools in Pennsylvania, comprising 5.1 percent of all public schools throughout the commonwealth.
Philadelphia has, by far, the most charter schools, with 80 as of the end of 2012.
Proponents of the charter school system, such as Veronica Joyner, the founder and CEO of the successful Mathematics, Civics and Sciences Charter School, are dismayed by Roebuck’s legislation and the overall attacks on the charter school system. While it’s fair, Joyner contends, to hold charter schools to certain standards, what isn’t fair is that there is no twin bill or efforts to extract the same standards from traditional public schools.
Joyner points to the $500 drop in per-pupil funding for charter school students, the political interests of those slamming charter schools, and even race as the other mitigating factors in what has devolved into a friction between traditional public schools and the charter school system. Joyner said she was “appalled” by Roebuck’s legislation, and vowed to fight against it.
“This is very saddening. For the first time in the history of Philadelphia, poor and minority students and parents have an alternative to the public school system, and what’s happening is that parents are choosing charters because they are safer, students are learning more and have more order,” Joyner said, noting that School District of Philadelphia Superintendent Dr. William Hite Jr. recently visited Joyner’s school and came away impressed. “The charter schools have no unions, and now we have unions trying to get into charter schools, but their legacy is that they have [helped to] destroy public education.
“The district says the charters are taking money from them, but look at the big picture,” Joyner said. “The district had deficits well before the charter school legislation passed, but they weren’t educating the child. So why should the taxpayer pay for nothing?”
Joyner points to the decades of financial mishandling and the contracts that district signs with unions and other service providers as the main culprit for the district current economic malaise, and not the multi-million dollar kick-in the district pays into the charter school system every year.
“If you are a poor teacher, why should you continue to have your job, based solely on seniority? You will not find that in any other sector. The district just suspended two for cheating, but Roebuck said nothing about that, and [the district] just went through nearly a billion dollars,” said Joyner, whose school received a very high ranking from parent resource Great Philly Schools. “In education, you have thousands and thousands of students not being educated, and we don’t blame the teacher that has the child for six hours a day, five days a week? I am shocked that Roebuck would put this bill through when I have a lot of children in his own district whose parents don’t agree with the report.
“I’m surprised Roebuck would select charters for all of this transparency when he doesn’t call for it in public schools,” Joyner continued. “He should do a report that focuses on financial mismanagement by the school district. Instead of dealing with the problems, he’s using charter schools as the substitute.”
Calls to Roebuck’s Harrisburg office seeking comment on Joyner’s allegations weren’t returned as of Tribune press time.
While Joyner believes the attack on charter schools truly emanate from small districts in rural communities, the veteran educator saved her harshest critique for what she sees as an attack on educating black students – a violation that leaves Joyner seething.
“I taught in the system. The district received Title I money when children don’t achieve academically, and when a child is labeled mentally challenged, the district gets double the money. So they dumb down children and that becomes a controlling factor – when students can’t do math or read, they end up in the prison system,” Joyner said, comparing that system of control to slavery and adding that this whole public school-charter school argument is pointless, because the education of the child is paramount. “For the first time in history, we have black children moving forward, and now there’s no control over that underclass.
“Instead, [legislation and reports like this] victimizes us. I can’t tell you the things I have to deal with to educate these black children, and trying to get them through this city and to college,” Joyner continued. “As black people, we already know that if we don’t have an education, we are doomed to being poor. It’s about the children, and they should be educated by any means necessary, which includes public schools, charter schools, private schools and parochial schools.”