My name is Susan Gobreski, I am the Executive Director of Education Voters of Pennsylvania, a non-profit organization working to strengthen public education in Pennsylvania.
I served on the PA Dept of Education Statewide Parent Advisory Committee for Title I in 2004 as a charter school representative, and I was the President and Treasurer of Independence Charter School in Philadelphia, serving on the Board for 5 years and I am a parent of three children, all of whom attended a good charter school from K-4th grade. I am also a graduate student in Urban Education policy at Temple University.
At Education Voters, our focus is on ensuring that all children have the supports and access they need to be able to learn state standards. This includes focusing on the resources that are provided, issues of equity and access, and policy and practice that improve learning conditions and outcomes for students. The issue of education as a matter of public policy is vital to the prosperity of Pennsylvania and economic well-being of communities.
We want to re-state what you have heard before – the Constitution states that the General Assembly shall provide for a through and efficient system of public education to meet the needs of the Commonwealth.
A couple of main points: as a society, we decided that public schools should be public for a few reasons
· That there is a relationship between what opportunities are available to people and the strength and health of the community;
· That education is infrastructure – like roads and bridges – a worthy public investment;
· If we are going to pay for it, we need to ensure our money is used well, for its intended purpose; that the public has access to the decision making and financial records of how our money is used.
The purpose of charters:
· To give us an opportunity to experiment with how we deliver services
· The charter is the agreement for services, and the budgets and expenditures should be subject to public scrutiny
There is a bright line between those who believe that charter schools are public schools and therefore subject to public input and accountable to the tax dollars that provide the funding or those who believe that they are really supposed to be private organizations, or even private schools, free to act without scrutiny or transparency.
We believe they are public schools. This idea has merit and there are examples of success that could inform our larger system. But we must be vigilant about their practice and what role we want them to play, as well as accountable for the services they provide.
As part of improving PA policy, your office has an important role to play as a watchdog and in gathering information that we can use to make better policy decisions moving forward.