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Auditor General Holds Meeting on Charter Schools

How can charter schools better help Pennsylvania students succeed? That is the question Auditor General Eugene DePasquale is asking.

At an information gathering session in Ross Township, DePasquale said they want to strengthen the accountability and transparency of the charter school system.

“Our goal in the hearings over the next three weeks is to provide really the best practices and also good points to the Pennsylvania General Assembly so they can take that, incorporate that, in updating and improving the Pennsylvania Charter School Law,” DePasquale said.

DePasquale said his office is trying to help the legislature improve the Pennsylvania Charter School Law and make sure people know what they’re getting for their tax dollars.

“There’s a lot of good charter schools, there are a lot of ones that struggle, but through our audits across the state we’ve seen a lot of areas where tax payer money hasn’t been spent appropriately,” DePasquale said. “But we also see a situation where ones are trying to do the right thing but need the appropriate tools and need appropriate help from the Pennsylvania Department of Education.”

Stephen Catanzarite, National Network of Digital Schools executive director of development, told those at the public meeting charter schools have an additional level of responsibility that traditional public schools do not.

He said it is a misconception that charter schools are taking students and money that belong to school districts.

“A child is not the property of a school district, when a student and her family decide for whatever reason that a public charter school suites their needs better than a public school district, the money follows the student,” Catanzarite said.  “School districts cannot feel entitled to a student or to the dollars allocated for the express purpose of educating that student.”

Catanzarite also challenged the assumption that students at charter schools do not perform as well as those from traditional schools.

He said statewide standardized test averages include every affluent school district in the state, which he believes skews data on student performance.

Jeremy Resnick, Propel Schools Foundation executive director, said the state needs quality charter authorizers.

“Unfortunately, school districts just generally make poor charter authorizers,” Resnick said. “Constructive interaction between charter schools and their authorizers will raise the overall quality in the charter sector, but some charter authorizers are a lot better than others.”

Under state law, local school boards approve charter applications.

He suggested the commonwealth look to New York, Michigan and Washington, D.C. for examples of good charter schools with quality authorizers.