Delco Times Op-Ed: High-quality charter schools meet the needs of families

By Tim Eller, Times Guest Columnist

Over the last several years, I have witnessed first-hand the contentious debate regarding charter schools across Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, there remains a complete lack of comprehensive and accurate information available to the public about the great strides being made by brick-and-mortar charter schools across the state.

Created by state law in 1997, the number of brick-and-mortar charter schools has grown to 160, which are educating more than 92,000 students.

The growing movement of charter schools is a result of the demand of parents who desire their child to attend a high-quality school that will provide excellent educational programs. Oftentimes, parents feel that their local school district has failed their child and search for alternatives to provide their child with a quality education.

What gets lost in the charter school debate is the fact that parents consciously make the decision to enroll their child in a charter school. Students are not mandated to attend a charter school; parents voluntarily elect this option for a number of reasons, including safety and academic and educational programs offered.

The Keystone Alliance for Public Charter Schools is a new Harrisburg-based organization recently formed to provide a means for high-quality, accountable brick-and-mortar charter schools to raise awareness of the positive contributions made by charter schools and to correct the misinformation proliferated by those who oppose school choice.

The Alliance operates under three pillars: Advocacy, where the concept of “money following the child” should determine how public schools are funded; research, the need for a much more robust collection and nonpartisan analysis on the performance of brick-and-mortar charter schools; and expansion, where reasonable and measured expansion of brick-and-mortar charter schools are necessary across the state.

Member charter schools of the alliance are required to adhere to four principles: high quality, open enrollment, administrative transparency and financial transparency.

Across the state, there are a number of high-quality, high-performing brick-and-mortar charter schools that serve the needs of their students through excellent programs and services, and receive high marks from parents.

Why should parents be prevented from making a decision that is in the best interest of their child? Parents are better positioned to know what their child needs, and, if attending a public brick-and-mortar charter school is what the parent has in mind, than that option should remain available.

This is not about pitting charter schools against school districts. This is about ensuring that students and parents have a choice when their local school district is not meeting their needs.

Across the state, there are traditional public school districts that are providing an excellent education to their students; however, there are areas in which students and parents are trapped in a failing school district at no fault of their own.

The alliance will advocate for high-quality brick-and-mortar charter schools to remain a long-term option for tens-of-thousands of Pennsylvania families. Doing anything less jeopardizes our future generation’s success.

Tim Eller is executive director of the Harrisburg-based Keystone Alliance for Public Charter Schools.