Stop the discrimination against special education students
Letter to the Editor:
All of Pennsylvania’s charter schools are facing a very serious crisis. Currently, our charter schools receive only 55-60 percent of what traditional local schools receive. Proposed state legislation and projected reductions in local school district funding would result in a 24 percent cut for charter schools—threatening the educational choice of the nearly 120,000 students they serve. The proposed legislation (Senate Bill 1316 and House Bill 2138) intends to dramatically cut funds for special education students at Pennsylvania’s public charter schools. If these bills are passed, charters would receive 30 percent to 60 percent less in special education funding than traditional public schools. In other words, special education students at charters will get less than their district school counterparts solely because they attend charter schools.
This is outright discriminatory and unconstitutional.
Out of 2.5 million students enrolled in publicly funded charter schools nationwide, Pennsylvania charter schools are public schools, serving nearly one-third of all Pennsylvania’s public school students. Together, these charter schools constitute the second largest public school district in Pennsylvania, giving parents and students a tuition-free option (and educational alternative) outside of traditional district schools. If Senate Bill 1316 and House Bill 2138 are passed, many charter schools will not be able to sustain funding cuts of this magnitude, and will undoubtedly be forced to close their doors. If this legislation is enacted, special education funding for Pennsylvania public charter schools will be cut by as much as $10,000 per student annually as a result of a new funding formula being applied to public schools. Special education includes all students with special needs – students who have academic needs, emotional needs, or any other disability that would require individualized support.
It is unfair and unconstitutional to treat charter school students, their parents, and their teachers as second-class citizens. Making blanket cuts like these across the board will undoubtedly lead to insurmountable learning challenges in the classroom. Sadly, the issues inside the classroom will lead to long-term consequences in our workforce and society years from now as our students reach adulthood. These cuts are shortsighted and inconsiderate of our children and society as a whole. Parents of charter school students—as well as taxpayers who rely on charter schools as one of the principal providers of public education in Pennsylvania – should demand equal treatment for these children. I fear the future that Senate Bill 1316 and House Bill 2138 can bring to their lives.
Senate Bill 1316 and House Bill 2138 are being voted on next month. These bills and the cuts they bring need to be opposed. I believe our lawmakers do not fully comprehend the full implications of these bills if passed. If they do understand, then they are using our children as political pawns to weaken the charter school movement. There are some in the Senate and House who would like to see charter schools eliminated. The political motivations behind these bills are questionable, at best. Nonetheless, all our public students deserve equal support and sustainable public education.
So I ask your readers to please speak to their legislators. Urge them to drop these bills and demand equal and fair treatment for all our students. Demand lawmakers to at least agree to extend the hold harmless provision to both traditional public schools and charters.
Find your legislators by going to http://www.legis.state.pa.us/ and scrolling down to find your legislator. Type in your home address twice, once for the state House of Representatives and once for the state Senate. Call, write, and email to let them know how much this will impact the school community. Tell them to vote “no” on Senate Bill 1316 and House Bill 2138.
Lincoln University, Pa.