Children First: Charter Schools just as under-funded as SDP

Philadelphia’s charter schools are failing the large majority of its students, according to a new Children First report. But why?

Because Philadelphia’s charter school students are just as underfunded as all of Pennsylvania’s schools, thanks to the state’s inadequate and unconstitutional school funding system. Like every other public school, charters simply cannot afford the academic resources and staffing costs required to deliver a 21st century education.

Children First analyzed results of the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSAs), which tests students in grades 3-8 on math and English/language arts. Philadelphia’s brick and mortar charter schools failed more than half of their elementary/middle school students in 2023, most being Black, Hispanic, and from low-income households. For comparison, so did the School District of Philadelphia.

But charter schools were supposed to lift student out of failing traditional schools. Free from over-regulation and teacher union restrictions, charters were to be laboratories of school innovation, trying new approaches or even going back to basics. But even laboratories need money to maintain their experiments.

Recent in-depth reporting on some Philadelphia charter schools shows how massive state education funding cuts neutralized the charter school experiment. “Under Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, cuts to education spending between 2010 and 2014 put a strain on the entire system. The belt tightening effectively ended the Promise Academy experiment by stripping the schools of extra programs and supports. The Renaissance charters were impacted because, as the district’s budget decreased, their per pupil payments went down.”

The loss of extra programs and supports really hurt Black, Hispanic, and low-income students who make up a greater share of students in Philly’s charter schools. Last week, the Philadelphia school board rejected the third application from Global Leadership Academy (GLA) to open a high school. A GLA spokesperson claimed that the vote denied, “Philadelphia’s most vulnerable Black teens and their families the high school that they so desperately need and worked for.”

It’s true that Black, Hispanic, and low-income students are being denied their constitutional right to a quality education, but it’s not the school board’s doing.

Advocates of charter schools would serve their cause better by lobbying for greater education funding. Perhaps with more funding, the two GLA-affiliated elementary/middle charter schools would have better PSSA results. At Global Leadership Academy Charter School, only 4% of students met state standards in math and 19% in reading in 2022-23; at Global Leadership Academy Southwest, it was 1% and 15%, respectively.

Pennsylvania’s students are still waiting for state lawmakers to pass adequate funding as directed by the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania. Until then, Philadelphia all public school students – charter and traditional – will be denied the educational success they deserve.

Read the new Children First report, Philadelphia Charter School Students Not Immune to Consequences of State Underfunding to learn more and find out charter schools can be the innovative centers for success they were supposed to be.