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Quality of education becomes sticking point in charter debate

By Brian Reed

Point Park News Service

Both sides of the charter school funding debate cite quality of education as a point of differentiation, with many charter school advocates arguing they do a better job than their traditional district school counterparts.

According to a recalculation of last year’s academic performance among Pennsylvania charter schools, required by the U.S. Department of Education, only 28% of the state’s charter schools met Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) and no cyber charter school met the requirements. In Pittsburgh, neither cyber nor brick-and-mortar schools made the grade.

AYP is a measurement of academic progress, determined in part by using standardized tests, as defined by the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Quaker Valley School District spokeswoman Tina Vojtko said she understands that academic performance varies by school and district, but she took issue with the idea that charter schools provide a better education.

“We can clearly provide a higher degree of education,” she said. “Not one charter school in the area has met AYP.”

Jeremy Resnick, founder and executive director of Propel Charter Schools, said that it is not about pitting charters against districts. The issue is providing viable education options for students.

“It’s not a matter of charter schools versus traditional public schools. I believe it’s a matter of good schools versus bad schools,” Resnick explained. “The fact that the state will tolerate school districts that force kids and parents into a position where they feel stuck is a crime. It’s criminal. I’m not sure why the Auditor General didn’t do a report on that.”

Seneca Valley School Board Vice President Eric DiTullio agreed that quality of education is the most important thing, but he expressed his frustration in the fact that many cyber organizations do not bear the responsibility of other state requirements.

“Whether its physical education requirements or the fact that they are not held to the same standard of AYP as we are, the state needs to make them play by the same set of rules,” DiTullio said.

According to Resnick, Propel Schools pride itself on providing a higher quality education than many students find in their home districts.

“Students and their parents should have the choice of attending a school with a proven track record,” he said. “We try to provide the type of experience that students would have in some of your more affluent districts.”

According to Resnick, Propel strives to promote an environment of respect that caters to the needs of individual students. Additionally, students designate one hour per day to the arts.

“The overall goal is for every child to be afforded the luxury of going to a school that is right for them,” Resnick said. “If there ends up being no Wilkinsburg district, or no charter schools, but kids in the community are in a good school and getting a good education, then it doesn’t matter; parents and tax payers would be thrilled.”

Vojtko voiced her frustration in investing public funds in charter programs.

“Beyond the money, let’s look at quality. Our taxpayers are paying half a million dollars a year, and they aren’t finding the quality acceptable,” Vojtko said.

Although Quaker Valley is a relatively small district and charter tuition does not have as large of an effect in the district as it does in others, it does pay among the highest charter tuition rate per non-special-needs student at $13,467.

“Why do we keep dumping money in to something that’s not working?” Vojtko said.

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