(The Center Square) — Amid intense deliberation over the best route forward for public school spending in Pennsylvania, issues tied to racial inequity have been pivotal for policymakers.
However, one area of bias, some educators assert, has been largely overlooked.
In 2021, the Philadelphia Board of Education commissioned an investigation that would shed light on claims that the district was taking a racially biased approach to its handling of black-led public charter schools.
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Charter schools enroll more than 170,000 children across Pennsylvania, though nearly half attend schools in Philadelphia. Like traditional district schools, charters receive funding — in the range of $9,000 to $23,000 per student — from the state.
In testimony presented to the Basic Education Funding Commission in Hanover last month, the African American Charter School Coalition, which levied the allegations, demanded the release of the report.
“The continuous delay in releasing the report has not only fostered a climate of mistrust and uncertainty but has also exacerbated the racial inequities we face,” the coalition said.
Though the release wasn’t framed as a direct response to the coalition’s request, the Philadelphia House Delegation and Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus announced that they received the report, now published on the House Democrats’ website, last week.
While the report did not identify any evidence of “intentional acts of racial discrimination or bias,” it makes clear that the district was aware of the “unique challenges” posed to black-led charter schools.
No action so far has been taken to resolve these challenges. House leadership now hopes to change that.
“This report is a long time coming, and the PLBC is committed to working with the Philadelphia Delegation and Philadelphia Board of Education to examine the outcome of the investigation and create a sustainable and equitable education for all students, most importantly students of color,” said Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus Chairman Napoleon Nelson (D-Glenside).
Support for charters is widespread, and their leaders should have a seat at the discussion table.
Out of thirteen schools whose charters have been revoked since 2010, eight were black-led, according to the report. The report cites financial distress or poor academic performance as the reasons the schools shuttered.
The report also raised concerns that the undue closures of these schools disrupted students’ lives, social landscape, and mental health, ultimately putting student achievement at risk.
In a state where many school faculties do not reflect the student population, appropriate representation is a key issue. The report notes that nearly two-thirds of students attending charter schools are black.
Spending on charter school tuition has increased 133 percent over the past ten years. That’s why, according to the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, more than 93 percent of locally elected school boards have called for charter school reform, particularly regarding the way the state currently funds them.
The association noted that support for charters is widespread, and their leaders should have a seat at the discussion table. Excluding them would be “a grave injustice that echoes the racial bias and inequities that have been a longstanding concern for our member schools.”
Christina Lengyel is a contributor to The Center Square.
This article was republished with permission from The Center Square.