by Lenny McAllister

In March 2020, Gov. Tom Wolf closed Pennsylvania schools because of the pandemic. Ever since, many school districts have struggled with providing effective virtual learning platforms. Some had issues getting students online due to internet accessibility problems and technology deficiencies. Others struggled with gauging academic progress and attendance. Many students missed key tests, with some receiving blanket passing grades.

Recent studies show some 3 million students nationally may have dropped out of “school learning” due to these shortcomings. A report showed that roughly one-fourth of the third through eighth grade cohort, including a disproportionate amount of socioeconomically challenged students, did not take specific annual academic assessments.

In Pennsylvania, these issues have cropped up for months in school districts, despite district officials telling lawmakers for years that they could provide online academic instruction better and cheaper than public cyber charter schools. The pandemic has proven otherwise–here at home and around America.

In contrast, public cyber charter families didn’t miss a beat. Pennsylvania’s cyber charters have been teaching online for more than 20 years. These schools know how to use technology to educate large numbers of students at home. As a result, thousands of families exercised their right under Pennsylvania law to choose a public cyber charter school for their children.

Honestly, can you blame them?

Sadly, some people do. The “blame game” has ramped up from school district officials and education unions. They complain that their money is lost to public charter schools–especially cyber charter schools. However, it’s not “their” money. It’s state funding allocated for education in Pennsylvania, regardless of where a student attends a public school.

Public charter schools are public schools–just like those in local school districts, but simply operating at roughly three-fourths of the cost.

Public charter schools have met the needs of their students and families for decades. That value has been highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic. Public charter schools are independent of bureaucratic restraints that school districts have, allowing them flexibility to pivot to new techniques for learning. They are innovative and groundbreaking, allowing them to be more efficient and responsive to students’ needs and parental concerns than local school districts.

That’s what students and parents need today. It shouldn’t be a surprise that more families are pursuing public charter schools. Innovation in education matters – especially now.

Innovation is why the General Assembly authorized the creation of public charter schools in 1997. They knew technology was reshaping the world. They wanted public education to keep pace. In contrast, PA’s Public School Code–passed in 1949–still uses an education model created before color television.

Public cyber charter schools even offered to share their innovative methods of learning with all schools, including district schools. We believe we’re all in this together.

Unfortunately, the “blame game” folks largely have ignored the offers of help. Instead, they vilify charter students and their families for seeking the best educational options available this year.

Sadly, they keep shaming the most vulnerable for exercising their right as Pennsylvanians to better empower their children. They target charter families – not administration costs, rising pensions or building debts–for their districts’ financial problems.

School district officials should focus on why families are leaving and taking their tax dollars with them-even if it is clear to the rest of us. We must support parents seeking a better choice for their children, not demonize them.

Families need more school choice, not less. The education of a child is too important to risk on an outdated, one-size-fits-all model of learning. School bureaucrats should stop their attacks on cyber charter families and work with public cyber schools to improve education for all students–especially now.

Lenny McAllister | Photo Credit: Nate Smallwood

Lenny McAllister is CEO of the PA Coalition of Public Charter Schools. (Photo credit: Nate Smallwood)