Dr. Greg Taranto stressed to the Canon-McMillan School Board earlier this week that when it comes to charter schools and pending legislation to reform them: “We have to start speaking up.”
Taranto, principal of the Canonsburg Middle School, on Monday updated the board on Senate Bill 1115—one advocates have said will reform charter schools and allow school choice.
But Taranto reiterated: “There’s not much reform going on.”
After explaining the concept of so-called “brick and mortar” charter schools and cyber charter schools, the administrator laid out a few concerns he said he had about the pending legislation.
If passed, he said the way in which charters are approved would change, among other things.
Taranto said that under current state law, an organization wishing to start a charter first makes application to the local school board. If rejected, the organization can appeal the decision to the state. But if SB 1115 is passed, he said, that decision would be controlled on a state level.
He added that while currently charters are given a set of goals and five years to meet them or have their charter revoked, if SB 1115 passes, it would change that time frame from five to 10 years.
Although charters are considered public schools and receive public money, the pending legislation would make the state’s Right to Know law moot when it comes to information about charters.
“If this bill passes, Right to Know will not be applicable,” Taranto said.
Taranto then gave a background about charters, explaining that they were first created in 1988.
“The idea was to improve public schools by creating best practices—not to directly compete with charter schools,” he said.
But he said that in the 1990s, those running charter schools “hijacked the premise.”
“Public schools are failing our children—that’s what they are saying,” Taranto said.
And then he went through test data and the relationship between public and charter schools.
“There is no empirical research to indicate that the shifting of millions of dollars to charters and shutting down public schools is best for student achievement,” he added.
He also showed information from a Stanford University study that was done regarding Pennsylvania charter schools—one that showed that one-third of students attending charters outperform those in public schools, one-third perform as well as those in public schools and that one-third perform at a level below that of students attending public schools.
Taranto added that charters often have high attrition rates, and that out of 12 cyber charters in the state, only one has made Adequate Yearly Progress benchmarks.
However, he said it is hard to determine which charter has or has not made AYP as the state has applied different AYP criteria to charter schools than the state uses to evaluate public schools despite the AYP charter school calculations not being approved by the United States Department of Education.
He then passed out a report from the state auditor general that estimated that public schools lose $1 million a day to charter schools—some of which are run by for-profit organizations making “millions and millions.”
“We have to keep our eyes on this,” Taranto said.
He suggested the board and community contact their local legislators to tell them they are opposed to the current Senate bill, be advocates and stay educated on the issue in hopes of “shutting down Senate Bill 1115 as it is now.”
“As I said in the past, there is a place for charter schools, but the funding formulas need fixed and the same rules for public schools should apply to the charter schools," Taranto said.