Governor Wolf’s New Charter School Rules Put Our Students’ Needs Aside

All students, regardless of race, gender, or birthplace, deserve the opportunity to succeed. They deserve education choices. But school boards – and more recently, Governor Tom Wolf – are neglecting our children’s needs, their wants.

Fifteen years ago, my colleagues and I co-founded Boys’ Latin, a charter school in Philadelphia that empowers hundreds of underserved black boys to defy societal low expectations and master an ancient but rewarding language on the academic plan.

Yet in 2015, when we applied to open Girls’ Latin, the Philadelphia school district said no. The district did not consider that the predecessor sends more black boys in college than any other school in Philadelphia and has a long waiting list of students. Instead, the district school board imposed endless, finicky rules on us.

Last week, Wolf made things bleaker across the state for charter schools and for families looking for the best options for their children. one-sided wolf dodged lawmakers and used the Independent Regulatory Review Commission (IRRC) to impose a new set of even more restrictive regulations on charter schools.

The governor complaints he’s “a big fan of charter schools”—however, under Wolf’s new rules, opening a new charter school isn’t just hard; it’s almost impossible.

New regulations, for example, require applicants to charter schools to state the number of English language learners and special education students who will attend the school, which is difficult to know for a school that does not exist. not yet. These rules also call for charter schools to offer the same health care options as district schools, an expensive or even impossible mandate for smaller schools that lack the bargaining power of their district counterpart.

District school boards, the very boards that face competition from charter schools, hold the sole authority to approve applications for brick-and-mortar charter schools. By imposing more regulations, Wolf gave these reluctant authorities even more ammunition to refuse new charter schools.

Instead of focusing on what’s best for all students, Wolf chose sides. He put the interest groups that bordered his campaign crates on boys and girls who need better educational options. In particular, the governor doesn’t set foot in a charter school for the more than seven years he has been in office.

And it’s not the first time that Wolf has favored his monopoly friends. During the call for Charter School Funding CutsWolf increased state funding for district schools in over $1.6 billion since taking office. The last statewide testing the results show that these funding increases did little to improve student achievement in public district schools.

The truth is, it’s more educational options – not more money for school districts – that empowers our boys and girls. If the government restricts education options, low-income minority children suffer the most.

Charter schools mainly serve low-income minority students who choose to be there. By stifling the creation of charter schools, Wolf is eliminating options for students who could never afford the luxury of private education.

Students from wealthy families will still have educational options. Wolf himself, as a student, enjoyed the privilege of teaching at a private school. The elite boarding school Wolf attended is currently charged $66,420 in annual tuition – nearly $3,000 more than the Pennsylvania median household wins in a whole year.

There’s nothing wrong with spending hard-earned wealth on a stellar education. But it is sheer hypocrisy on Wolf’s part to push students into district schools that he himself shunned.

Families are fleeing district schools in droves. Since the start of COVID-19, more than 9,000 students— or 7.5 percent — left the Philadelphia school district. Meanwhile, more 40,000 students are on waiting lists for charter schools in Philadelphia.

Pennsylvanians need more charter schools, but these crushing new regulations are sidelining countless teachers, parents, and community leaders seeking academic opportunities.

When we started Boys’ Latin, we endured a long and arduous application process that defied common sense. Now the process is much more detailed and restrictive. Wolf’s new regulatory barriers are a disingenuous disservice to students attending—or expecting to attend—the charter school of their choice.

Wolf picked a side, and from the perspective of black, Latino, and poor kids, he picked the wrong side. Instead of doing favors to friends with special interests, the governor must put students first.


David P. Hardy, co-founder and retired CEO of Boy’s Latin of Philadelphia charter school, is a Distinguished Fellow of the Commonwealth Foundation.

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