According to a recent analysis by advocacy group, Public Citizens for Children in Youth (PCCY), the number of children attending charter schools in the four counties surrounding Philadelphia has increased for 15 consecutive years. Once associated with urban education, charter schools have now become popular in the suburbs as well.
The PCCY analysis, called “Uncharted Territory,” reveals that 15,725 students from Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery counties were enrolled in charter schools in 2016.
While much of the activity is in Delaware and Chester counties, Chester-Upland is the only suburban district in which most of public school students attend charter schools. However, 13 other districts, including the Coatesville Area, Bensalem Township, and Avon Grove, have five percent of students or more attending charter schools. In 2016, the suburban school districts made charter payments totaling $217 million, and charter school costs have increased by $73 million over the past five years.
Charter schools were introduced in Pennsylvania in 1997, intended to be independent focal points of innovation. Over the years, Philadelphia has remained number one in terms of charter students, with 70,000 of its 202,000 students enrolled, which amounts to 35 percent. However, suburban charter schools continue to add about 920 students each year, consistently.
The PCCY report sought to examine whether charter schools are an “effective and efficient use of taxpayer money in the southeast Pennsylvania suburbs”.
While the report did not seek to answer why more suburban families are enrolling their children in charters, PCCY’s executive director believes that suburban families are seeking alternatives due to the financial burden placed on school districts. She explains that there has been an increase in poverty in some suburban districts, causing there to be less money available to students with more complex needs. Parents who do not believe their school district has adequate resources to educate their child may consider sending their child to a nearby charter.
A Pennsylvania senator and charter supporter agrees that districts are struggling to provide quality education to an increasingly diverse population.
About three-quarters of charter students are enrolled in brick and mortar charter schools, while the remaining quarter is enrolled in cyber charter schools. Both types of charters have experienced steady growth; Chester County has 4,787 students enrolled in brick and mortar charters and 990 students enrolled in cyber charters; Delaware County has 4,351 students enrolled in brick and mortar charters and 1,380 students enrolled in cyber charters. Brick and mortar charter schools and cyber charter schools have received $50 million more and $24 million more in tuition costs than five years ago, respectively.
PCCY attributes higher costs and stagnant performance to Pennsylvania’s “weak and outdated charter school law”. The group makes several recommendations to improve the funding system and increase the academic quality of charter schools, including implementing a standardized cyber charter tuition rate, applying Pennsylvania’s public school special education funding formula to charter schools, and providing a clear definition of “high quality,” which will be used as a criterion for approval.
PCCY also suggests allowing the bottom ten percent of charters to close expediently to protect students and taxpayers from failure and allowing high quality charters to grow by giving the top ten percent more flexibility to expand.
For more information on ongoing legal issues pertaining to charter schools or legal representation on education law matters, call the Malvern charter school attorneys at MacMain, Connell & Leinhauser at 484-318-7106 or contact us online.