MYTH:  Tom Wolf accuses Governor Corbett of prioritized mass expansion and deregulation of Pennsylvania’s Charter Schools over accountability and student outcomes.

On Tom Wolf’s website, he states in reference to “Reforming Pennsylvania’s Charter School Sector:”

“The state’s charter school sector is one piece of our public education system. It can play an important role in introducing new and innovative teaching practices that can be expanded to local school districts. Unfortunately, Governor Corbett and others in Harrisburg have prioritized mass expansion and deregulation of this sector over accountability and student outcomes.”

TRUTH:  In fact, Governor Corbett and others (Republicans are assumed) in Harrisburg have done just the opposite.  Wherever they could, Republicans have applied brakes on “mass expansion” and have done nothing (zero) to deregulate Pennsylvania Charter Schools.  Rather, each year, Republican legislative initiatives have sought to further regulate charter schools.  These initiatives were defeated in large part because Democrats universally opposed these modest reforms.

Any significant “mass expansion” in charter enrollment that was taking place from 2010 to 2014 mostly occurred in Philadelphia.  It was driven by demand for school choice, not Corbett’s administration policies.

The Philadelphia School District is run by a five member School Reform Commission (SRC).  During this four year period, the SRC granted only a handful of new charters for schools in Philadelphia.  Yet, the charter school student body grew from 30,000 to nearly 60,000.  Why?  Because during the last half century of unbroken Democratic Party control, the Philadelphia School District has been a massive failure,  producing huge deficits and unsafe and ineffective public schools.  The “mass expansion” took place because parents and students were demonstrating their frustration with their local Philadelphia public schools with their feet.

On Saturday, December 21, 2001, the State took over the Philadelphia School System and runs it today through a School Reform Commission (SRC).   The SRC tried only recently to stop this mass migration to charter schools and without fanfare, on August 15, 2013, passed its solution – SRC-1.  This controversial resolution suspended four provisions of the school code, allowing the district to impose enrollment caps and prohibit state reimbursements for Philadelphia’s 86 charter schools.  But even these recent efforts to curb “mass migration” were misguided and were struck down by the Court in Philadelphia.

Tom Wolf wants to blame this city mass migration on Tom Corbett.  Wolf’s criticism is patently unfair.  The SRC has five members appointed by the governor and two appointed by the Democrat Mayor of Philadelphia (Michael Nutter).  The problem with Wolf’s accusation is that until December 31, 2013, the majority of the SRC were appointed by either Mayor Nutter (D) or Governor Rendell (D), with each member serving a four or five year term.

So, any “mass expansion” in Philadelphia over the last four years has been a direct result of an entrenched Democratic controlled school system that families are abandoning in droves or an SRC controlled by Democratic appointees.  Certainly Governor Corbett has no responsibility for 30,000 students choosing charter schools over their assigned neighborhood public school!

In Harrisburg, each year since Corbett has been governor; charter school reform legislation has been introduced but has failed to pass – to the disappointment of both charter supporters and charter detractors.  Most of this legislation would have provided more regulation and oversight to Pennsylvania’s Charter Schools – not deregulation.  Consistently, Democrats have voted against these bills.

So what can Tom Corbett legitimately be criticized for?

Brick and mortar charter schools are granted charters by their local school districts.  By contrast, Governor Corbett does have direct control over Cyber Charter Schools.  During his tenure, 21 groups applied to start a Cyber Charter School.  Through his appointed Secretary of Education, only four new school charters were granted.  One of these four schools remained open for only one year.  The remaining three have attracted a combined total of only 796 students!  During this same time period, three Cyber Charter Schools were closed and one was forced by the state to reorganize.  This is not the record of a governor who is prioritizing “mass expansion.”

So, Tom Wolf’s statement blaming Tom Corbett for “mass expansion and deregulation” of charter schools is completely unfounded.  Perhaps he is trying to deflect attention from his own party’s abysmal record on education reform.  In fact, it has been Democrats in Harrisburg and Philadelphia who have been the ones to “prioritize mass expansion” of charter schools and it has been the Democratic Party that has opposed any attempts to bring about further reasonable regulation of charter schools.

MYTH / TRUTH prepared by:

Dr. James Hanak, CEO, PA Leadership (Cyber) Charter School