All students—regardless of their race, sex, or birthplace—deserve the opportunity to succeed. They deserve education choices. But school boards—and most recently, Gov. Tom Wolf— sideline our children’s needs, their wants.
Fifteen years ago, my colleagues and I co-founded Boys’ Latin, a Philadelphia charter school that empowers hundreds of underserved Black boys to challenge low societal expectations and master an old yet academically rewarding language.
Yet, in 2015, when we applied to open Girls’ Latin—the Philadelphia School District said no. The district didn’t consider that the predecessor sends more Black boys to college than any other school in Philadelphia and has a long waiting list of students. Instead, the district’s Board of Education met us with endless, nitpicky rules.
Last week, Wolf made things grimmer statewide for charter schools and for families seeking the best options for their children. Wolf unilaterally sidestepped legislators and used the Independent Regulatory Review Commission (IRRC) to slam through a new slew of even more restrictive charter school regulations.
The governor claims he’s “a big fan of charter schools”—however, under Wolf’s new rules, opening a new charter school is not just difficult; it’s almost impossible.
The new regulations, for example, require charter school applicants to state the number of English learners and special education students that will attend the school—something difficult to know for a school that doesn’t yet exist. These rules also expect that charter schools offer the same healthcare options as district schools, a costly if not impossible mandate for small schools that do not have the bargaining power of their district counterpart.
District school boards, the very same that face competition from charter schools, hold the sole power to approve applications for brick-and-mortar charter schools. By imposing more regulations, Wolf gave these reluctant authorizers even more ammunition to deny new charter schools.
Instead of focusing on what’s best for all students, Wolf picked sides. He put the interest groups that lined his campaign coffers over boys and girls that need better educational options. Notably, the governor hasn’t set foot in a charter school in the more than seven years he’s been in office.
And it isn’t the first time Wolf has favored his monopolistic friends. While calling for charter school funding cuts, Wolf has increased state funding for district schools by over $1.6 billion since taking office. The latest statewide testing results show that these funding hikes have done little to improve student achievement in public district schools.
The truth is, it’s more educational options—not more money for school districts—that empower our boys and girls. If government restricts educational options, it’s low-income, minority children that suffer the most.
Charter schools serve predominately minority, low-income students that choose to be there. In stifling charter school creation, Wolf is eliminating options for students that could never afford the luxury of private education.
Students from wealthy families will always have educational options. Wolf himself, as a student, enjoyed the privilege of private school education. The elite boarding school Wolf attended currently charges $66,420 in annual tuition—almost $3,000 above what the median Pennsylvania household earns in an entire year.
There’s nothing wrong with spending hard-earned wealth on a stellar education. But it’s outright hypocrisy for Wolf to push students to district schools that he himself avoided.
Families are fleeing district schools in droves. Since the start of COVID–19, more than 9,000 students—or 7.5 percent—have left the Philadelphia School District. Meanwhile, over 40,000 students are on waiting lists for Philadelphia charter schools.
Pennsylvanians need more charter schools, but these new crushing regulations sideline countless teachers, parents, and community leaders seeking academic opportunity.
When we started Boys’ Latin, we endured a long, arduous application process that defied commonsense. Now the process is far more detailed and restrictive. Wolf’s new regulatory barriers are a hypocritical disservice to the students that attend—or are waiting 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 playing favors with special interest friends, the governor needs to put students first.
David P. Hardy, co-founder and retired CEO of Boy’s Latin of Philadelphia charter school, is a distinguished fellow for the Commonwealth Foundation.
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