The West Chester Area School Board voted 7-0 Monday to reject a proposed charter school, Valley Forge Classical Academy, the second time the WCAB turned down its application.
The state legislature is now looking into changes to the charter school law that may make it easier for new charter schools to form in the face of opposition from officials and union groups who portray these school choice options as harmful to traditional public schools.
Guy Ciarrocchi, Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools board member and former Chesco Chamber of Business and Industry CEO, decried the decision.
“Sadly, the West Chester School Board did what too many school boards do in Pennsylvania. They rejected competition; they rejected giving parents a choice. Taxpayers who support giving children access to quality schools, empowering parents, and competition should be rooting for Valley Forge as they appeal this decision. If they win, everyone wins.”
The Commonwealth Foundation’s education policy analyst Rachel Langan said, “The state could make charter schools more accessible by easing requirements to set up a charter school, allowing the tax dollars to follow the student and making the charter appeal board more charter-friendly.”
And she pointed out what school choice advocates say is the absurdity of the current system for getting public charter schools approved. She compared it to Wegman’s grocery store chain needing approval from a competitor, Acme, to move in next door.
“Imagine if Wegmans also had to secure a location for their store without knowing if Acme would support it. That’s costly and risky—and essentially represents the current charter approval process. If denied, Wegmans loses money and must appeal. If the proposal is approved, Acme must pay Wegmans each time a customer shops at Wegmans instead of Acme.
“This doesn’t make sense for a grocery store, and it doesn’t make sense for schools, either,” Langan said. “Why would a school district choose this model? The model is flawed and needs to be changed.”
The Commonwealth Foundation is the state’s free-market think tank.
State Sen. Dave Argall (R-Carbon/Schuylkill), who chairs the education committee, said the House and Senate are trying to change the charter school law. A year ago, he brought together interested parties to discuss issues, from charter schools, cyber charters, public schools, the teachers’ union, and the association representing public school business officials.
“I joked at one point it was like bringing Cowboys fans and Eagles fans into the same room,” said Argall. “They have some things in common, but they have very strong differences.”
And with a Democratic-run House, a Democratic governor, and a Republican-led Senate, there have to be compromises. He said he believes small changes can be made at first.
“We need to do a better job of helping the school boards pay some of the costs of charters,” said Argall. “We should look at how schools are reimbursed for special needs (students).”
“You know it’s going to be painful,” he continued. “You know it’s going to be complicated. But I think there is a basic consensus that we should try.”
“A lot of us strongly support school choice,” he said.
School choice supporters held a rally at the state Capitol on Tuesday. Supporters of the Valley Forge Classical Academy plan to appeal to the state Charter School Board. They are collecting signatures from supporters so they can file that appeal.
The district issued a statement saying the application did not meet the district’s standards or the state’s standards.
“We know that our community, our students, thrive on high-quality educational experiences and programs,” said Karen Fleming, president of the WCASB. “While we recognize the Valley Forge Classical Academy’s enthusiasm for student enrichment, the revised application and district evaluation still demonstrate the proposed charter school’s inability to meet the caliber of education our community and our state expect.”