As parents of children who benefit greatly from attending highly successful charter schools, we are disappointed that any of Philadelphia's state representatives would vote against the charter school bill (HB 97) being debated in Harrisburg. No matter how well charter schools perform, some people allow their fear of change to prevent them from accepting a new model for education — even if it works better for children.
Tens of thousands of families in Philadelphia would love to send their children to high-performing charter schools, but those schools simply aren't available to them. This legislation would create a system that encourages the growth of quality schools. It ensures that the school district can close low-performing charters, but also makes it easier for top performers — like the Mastery schools our children attend –to have longer contract periods, 10 years instead of the current five. That stability would make it easier to raise funds to improve school buildings.
We often hear the argument that charter schools take away money from traditional schools. That is simply not true. Charters serve 35 percent of the city's students, but receive only 29 percent of the funding. If everyone listened to the core facts, forgetting which side they are on, we could find common ground.
The funding can be spread fairly. Both traditional public and charter schools should get the funding needed to provide a fair education. No one should have to lose when kids are involved. Every family deserves to have the kind of public education it chooses.
There is a lot of denial going on, a lack of trust, and a refusal to listen to everyone and get all the details. That's a big problem. Everybody needs to put pride and egos to the side and look at the bigger picture. These are kids. This is their education.
One of us has a special-needs child. He has grown academically since Mastery took over management of our school. Last year, the state considered cutting special education funding, specifically to charter schools, by 40 percent. That would have devastated families. Fortunately, parents organized and fought off that proposal. This new bill seeks to create a bipartisan commission to study how to fund charters and prevent the kind of painful cuts that were threatened last year.
We know too many families in low-performing schools who sit on waiting lists, hoping to get their children into high-performing charter schools. They come from every community in the city. It's unconscionable that the majority of Philadelphia's legislative delegation voted against a bill that would give more of these families an opportunity to help their children.
The education our kids get from Mastery keeps them engaged. We have experienced firsthand what happens when Mastery has taken over management of the previously low-performing district schools. Our children are more excited to go to school, they have fun and their academic performance improves dramatically. If kids are not coming to school and not keeping engaged they're losing interest, which means they're going to be hanging out in the streets more. It's not good for anybody. The way to make the city and our community stronger starts at home but it also starts with what our kids experience at school. I'm grateful they have great teachers and are surrounded by people who really care about them.
This is a new era. Charter schools such as Mastery give our kids more of what families need now. We believe this kind of education can help change this city and maybe even the world. Many charter schools are outperforming traditional schools. Families who have the choice are choosing charter schools. This bill will help ensure more parents have access to make their preference possible.
Tashia Fauntroy and Kelli Jones are parents of children at Mastery Charter Schools' Clymer, Cleveland and Picket campuses.