The Pennsylvania legislature passed Act 22 in 1997 authorizing the creation of charter schools to provide educational options for parents and students. Intended to be “laboratories of innovation,” charter schools supplement traditional public schools’ offerings with various curricula and foci. Each charter school offers a unique focus or area of expertise, designed to appeal to a specific group of students.
Charter Schools positively affect the districts surrounding them by creating fair competition for student enrollment while driving increases in student academic achievement in both settings. They provide parents and taxpayers with a voice to say where and how their hard-earned tax dollars are distributed and to whom.
Schools are the number one criterion parents of small children consider when deciding where to buy a home. Good schools draw families to the area and provide demand for goods and services. This demand draws entrepreneurs and other businesses to the area. Charter schools offer more choices to parents and create better schools for everyone, and better schools build better communities for everyone.
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Chester County students may soon have the opportunity to choose a new charter school. Valley Forge Classical Academy recently submitted a charter school application to the West Chester Area School District (WCASD). The focus on the charter is a “classical education” curriculum, the first of its kind in Pennsylvania. The mission of the school is “to inspire students to think with judgment and communicate effectively in pursuit of academic excellence by providing a classics-based education.”
Children will study a curriculum filled with classical literature, music, and art, Latin, core sciences, and cursive handwriting. The school will use the Singapore Math curriculum, a phonics approach to reading, and an original text emphasis to learning history. The Hillsdale 1776 Curriculum, arguably the gold standard in classical curriculum, was selected by the founders of the school. This rigorous and engaging curriculum meets and often exceeds the Pennsylvania standards at each grade level.
I believe this application will be a wonderful opportunity for many students across Chester County. Yet, there are already anti-school choice groups criticizing the mission and advocating for WCASD to deny the charter. The initial hearing with the WCASD school board is scheduled for June 14, 2023.
Unfortunately, WCASD has a history of denying charter school applications. However, the state law contains an appeals provision for denied applications to be heard at the state level. In 1997, Collegium Charter School applied to WCASD and was denied. They appealed to the Charter Appeals Board, and it was determined that WCASD must grant the charter. Collegium continues to operate today providing a comprehensive academic program for grades kindergarten to twelve with an emphasis on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math).
The district spent a great deal of taxpayer dollars denying the initial Collegium application and then fighting the appeal, only to lose in the end. Will WCASD follow a similar pattern for the Valley Forge Classical Academy charter application?
Our community should welcome and encourage diversity of school settings and healthy competition.
It will be interesting to see whether the district approves the charter application or succumbs to the anti-school choice constituents and utilizes the new firm to justify their denial. If the board denies the charter and it is ultimately approved by the Charter Appeals Board, is that fair to the taxpayers in the district? Why drag this process and waste precious resources? Valley Forge Classical Education charter school is open to all Chester County residents.
It is a fact that there are no other classical education schools in the area, and this is a great opportunity for those parents seeking this model. Why would WCASD limit parental choice in education? This is especially important post school closures when test scores are not rebounding.
Given the data, why not let parents decide where to send their children for school? WCASD has a legal and moral responsibility to ensure that every child receives a free and appropriate education. What is appropriate for one child may not be appropriate for another. If the district is confident in its ability to provide high quality education for every student, it should not fear competition. If Valley Forge Classical Academy cannot meet the needs of its students, it will ultimately fail.
And that is the beauty of the free market. Let the consumers decide if the school will succeed.
Parents and students deserve as many options as possible to find the best fit for school. Our community should welcome and encourage diversity of school settings and healthy competition. It will improve academic outcomes for students, which leads to more productive workers and engaged citizens. I am hopeful that WCASD will give Valley Forge Classical Academy’s charter application a fair process and avoid any unnecessary and expensive legal processes.
Daniel Pishock is a resident of Chester County, a father, former teacher, and an advocate of school choice for all.