Kristen Bishop

Kristen Bishop

It is hard to imagine another moment in history when the importance of education has been more apparent throughout our communities. It doesn’t matter if your children go to public school districts, public charter schools, or private schools.

It has never been clearer to see that schools play an essential role in our local community’s social, economic, and political prosperity and stability. Now is the time for us adults to come together and collectively problem-solve fair solutions for our educational system so that we can emerge from this crisis stronger than ever. Our children depend on it.

The Daily Local News printed an article quoting extensively from Mr. Fisher, President of the Coatesville Area School District Board. First, Mr. Fisher claims that “Charter schools are not held to the same standard as public schools, and are not required to provide the same level of public accountability as a public school district.”

Public charter schools are accountable to the same standard as public school districts. I would argue that we are held to a higher degree of accountability because our students choose our schools and can leave at any time if we do not serve them well.

Charter schools are required to report annually to their authorizing school district and submit approximately 50 state-mandated reports, the same requirements imposed on public school districts. They are also subject to Right to Know Law, like school districts.

As the CASD president, a position he was elected to by  all Coatesville residents, I believe he has to serve all students in the Coatesville area and not just those who attend district schools. Therefore, I implore you, Mr. Fisher, to educate yourself on our reporting requirements and financial operations beyond what may be conveyed by your district leadership, hired and paid consultants, or political action groups.

Next, Mr. Fisher contends that it has paid Collegium Charter School $13.2 million during the 2018-19 school year for special education tuition, but Collegium has spent just $6.7 million in special education costs. He asks rhetorically where the extra dollars went and then speculates that the money “went directly into the school’s coffers to the great deterrent of our school district.”

I say his question is rhetorical because charter schools are subject to the Right-to-Know Law. The calculation for per-pupil charter funding is complex. Districts pay charter schools the per-capita fraction of their budgeted expenses for each regular education student accepted from the district; for special education students, the district pays an additional per-capita fraction of their actual expenses for special education students.

This makes logical sense since a special education student requires all the same base costs as a regular education student—like the school building, its chairs, desks, tables, teachers, and supplies—as well as an additional cost for their individual needs. There are also many students who require services that well-exceed (sometimes up to $120,000 a year) the per-pupil allotment provided to charter schools by a school district; however, the charter school does not receive the difference.

We also do not have taxing authority to raise funds for strategic initiatives or future planning, nor are we eligible for a whole host of reimbursements or programs made available to school districts. I believe it is disingenuous for a district to only focus on instances where they may be “overpaying” (in their view) and never discuss where they may be “underpaying.”

I don’t disagree that “Pennsylvania charter school funding is unfair, inequitable and outdated and in dire need of reform.  COVID-19 has underscored that public education is core to the Commonwealth’s social and economic prosperity, and public schools, both district and charter, are woefully underfunded given the enormity of their mission.

I believe in two simple truths:

  • Education money from local taxes should support students, not institutions.
  • Both districts and charter schools should plan, budget, and run programs for students who attend their schools - not to live beyond their means and place their organizations in financial jeopardy. This takes strong leadership and sometimes unpopular and challenging decision-making.

With that said, I no longer wish to argue with the Coatesville Area School District as it continues to blame charter schools, particularly Avon Grove Charter School and Collegium Charter School, for the District’s financial issues or lack of consideration of structural differences between public charters and districts. Instead, I hope to move forward in a partnership for the good of all students that reside within the district.

I am also inviting all community members interested in the funding problems in public school districts and public charter schools to come together, hear each other, and work out real solutions for the children in our county.

Like we teach our children, it is imperative that individuals receive information from all sides of an argument and make an educated decision based on that information - not just hearing one side and taking it as doctrine.

Charter schools welcome the opportunity to participate in the fair funding discussion but are often not included. Therefore, Avon Grove Charter School is preparing to host a community town hall and start a conversation about equitable education funding for all kids.

Kristen Bishop
Superintendent
Avon Grove Charter School
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