Colleen Cook: Tom Wolf’s attack on charter schools unfair
When I see Gov. Tom Wolf’s actions on charter schools, I cannot help but think of what would have happened to my family if we didn’t have school choice in Oklahoma.
Legislators in Pennsylvania should know that my oldest son — a well-behaved honor-roll student — attempted to take his own life. Internal struggles had changed school from a place of learning to a place of fear and despair for him. Feeling trapped, he almost succeeded in taking his own life and shattering ours.
Following this near tragedy, a few important things happened: My son was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, a diagnosis that helped him understand why he was feeling so lost. And I moved him and my two other children out of public school and into a virtual public school where they could learn in an environment better suited to their needs.
That experience inspired me to become more involved nationally as a voice in support of the school choice that not only saved but changed my son’s life.
Unfortunately, Wolf does not seem to trust Pennsylvania parents. He believes he knows what’s better for children. Among his attacks on charter schools, he claims Pennsylvania charters aren’t accountable.
This simply isn’t true. They’re held accountable by parents, who make the choice to send their children to charters. And more importantly, we can remove them.
Wolf misses the entire point of what makes charter schools such an essential part of a modern education system. No family chooses to take their child out of a school that is working for them. Families choose charter schools because the local traditional public school option has failed their family.
We urge Wolf and the Legislature to consider the educational successes of hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvania students who currently attend or previously attended charter, magnet and cyber schools. It may surprise some to know that as parents of charter school students, we believe in accountability more than most.
We also don’t oppose reform, but reform should treat all public schools the same. Traditional schools are permitted to fail our children year after year.
This is how it works: The traditional school district fails a student. The student’s parents send him to a charter school. The district attacks the charter school for the child’s testing scores, despite failing the student for years. Finally, citing test scores and a drain on their financial resources, the district calls for closing the charter school.
But do they? That doesn’t seem to be the case in Pennsylvania.
According to the Pennsylvania-based Commonwealth Foundation, the state’s 500 school districts hold $4.6 billion in reserve funds. Reserves have grown for 13 consecutive years, including $64 million in 2017-18.
In fact, charter schools receive only about 72% of the per-pupil funding that district schools receive. If anything, charter students deserve more support, not less, because brick-and-mortar and cyber charters are working hard to help children every day.
Every charter parent believes in holding public schools accountable, and we’re open to real reforms, but let’s demand those reforms impact all Pennsylvania schools. Otherwise, it isn’t reform. It’s an attack on parents’ right to choose the schools that best fit their children. Fortunately for my children in Oklahoma, I had a choice. And it literally saved my son’s life.