July 12 — 12:45 pm, 2016

Don’t limit high-quality options for our students; HB530 deserves support

harrisburg capitol Photo: Image courtesy of WikiMedia Commons

For many years, the School District of Philadelphia, anti-charter groups, and even high-performing charter schools have demanded that charters be held accountable for student achievement. They are right to demand this, just as citizens should demand accountability for all public schools in our city and state. And the entity that we should all expect to lead the way in holding all schools accountable for students’ achievement levels is the state government. After all, providing a quality education for the citizens of Pennsylvania is a constitutional (and a moral) obligation.

Right now, Pennsylvania’s representatives are poised to vote on an important bill (HB530) that would, among other things, differentiate between high-performing and unsuccessful charter schools. This bill also addresses a lot of other issues that anti-charter folks have highlighted as their reasons for resisting charter schools in the first place.

So, help me to understand our current situation.

We hear complaints about how charters are funded, how they are held accountable, how they grow. And now there is a bill that our state representatives are considering that would address these issues.

Too often, charter critics stand on the wrong side of the students and their families.

The unbelievable part is that there are anti-charter groups that stand against this bill. I have long suspected that these anti-school-choice folks weren’t actually for charter school accountability. If they were, they would applaud high-performing charter schools that support our city’s beleaguered neighborhoods.

It is clear that some of them are wholly against charter schools, a very viable and successful option that represents choice for thousands of Black and Brown families. It is also abundantly clear that again, and far too often, these charter critics do not stand with students and their families.

House Bill 530 has a lot of potential to right some of the wrongs here in our city. For example, we all know that cyber charters bleed our District and should not have the same funding as brick-and-mortar charters. This bill addresses that. House Bill 530 includes $27 million in savings to school districts, including Philadelphia’s, by cutting cyber charters.

We also know that high-performing schools should be able to grow and address the demand for a quality education – thousands of students are on charter school waitlists across the city and state. This bill provides the opportunity for high-performing charters to grow and meet the needs of our city’s residents. We know that less than 30 percent of Black boys graduate high school on time. Yet several of the charter high schools in this city graduate between 90 percent and 100 percent of their Black boys. A high percentage of the students who attend Philadelphia’s charter schools are Black boys. Voting against HB530 is voting against the most oppressed demographic in the city – our young Black men.

Sixty-six percent of charter school students are boys. HB530 supports their school of choice.

HB 530 includes protections that level the playing field for the highest-quality charter schools and accountability for weak and underperforming schools. This bill also makes it more likely that low performers are not renewed because of its newly introduced performance matrix. The bill also addresses concerns about conflicts of interest among charter school trustees by instituting necessary ethics reforms.

These are all things that charter critics have demanded. Now, it is obvious that their intent has never been about charter school reform. It is about limiting high-quality options for families in this city and state.

Lastly, this bill also:

  • Creates a funding advisory commission to comprehensively address charter and cyber charter school funding.
  • Increases Educational Improvement Tax Credit funding that will benefit Philadelphia students.
  • Includes a commission to address charter funding that will ensure that cuts to special education don’t happen in a vacuum.

Our legislators and our community should support the passage of House Bill 530.

Sharif El-Mekki is the principal of Mastery Charter School – Shoemaker Campus and a former teacher and principal in the Philadelphia School District. From 2013 to 2015, he was one of three principal ambassador fellows working on issues of education policy and practice in the U.S. Department of Education with former Secretary Arne Duncan. Reprinted with permission from his blog.

 

 

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