Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: Here to Stay - State Data Reveal Resilience, Dramatic Growth Among Charter Schools

BY MEGAN HARRIS

Pennsylvania charter schools have recruited, multiplied and evolved, growing from nothing at the law's passage in 1997 to 128,712 students attending 176 real and virtual schoolhouses statewide, records show.

Last year charters raked in more than $853 million in educational tax dollars, bringing the 17‐year total to more than $5.3 billion.

Advocates say this is just the beginning.

"There was a reason why charters and cybers and all these other nontraditional systems exploded," said state Rep. Jake Wheatley, D‐Hill District, who watched the trend. "We have parents and communities out there who aren't being educated and served to an acceptable level. They needed another option."

There's room for growth, experts say. Data show only 7 percent of Pennsylvania students attend charter schools.

"We're living in an increasingly customer‐oriented age," said Jon Cetel, executive director of charter advocacy group PennCAN in Philadelphia. "We choose Netflix over cable and Uber over taxicabs. We want similarly customized approaches to the most important choice we make."

In charters' early days, the number of schools grew much more rapidly than their enrollments, even as up to a dozen schools opened and closed in quick succession. In the past five years, that trend changed. Enrollments ballooned 63 percent, attracting 50,000 new students since 2009.

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