For many years, the School District of Philadelphia, anti-charter groups, and even high performing charter schools, 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, amongst 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 reason 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 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 there are some who 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 for far too often, these charter critics do not always 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% of Black boys graduate high school on time. Yet, several of the charter high schools in this city graduate between 90-100% of their Black boys. 66% 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.
66% of charter school students are boys. HB530 Supports their schools 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 non-renewed because of a newly introduced performance matrix that is in the language of HB530. Accountability for charter school entities is increased by requiring this new performance matrix to be used for charter renewals and addresses concerns about conflicts of interest when it comes to charter school board of trustees membership by instituting necessary ethics reforms.
These are all things that charter critics have demanded. Now, it is obvious that their initial 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 EITC funding that will benefit Philadelphia students;
- HB 530 includes a commission to address charter funding which will ensure cuts to special education don’t happen in a vacuum.
Our legislators and our community should support the passage of House Bill 530.
Pennsylvanians, call your state representatives and ask that they support children and the high performing charter schools that educate them. It is an opportunity to put children first.
Sharif El-Mekki is the principal of Mastery Charter School–Shoemaker Campus, a neighborhood public charter school in Philadelphia that serves 750 students in grades 7-12. From 2013-2015, he was one of three principal ambassador fellows working on issues of education policy and practice with U.S. Department of Education under Secretary Arne Duncan.