The superintendents in 29 districts near Philadelphia joined to call for charter funding reform and an end to unfunded mandates.

With a new governor, state budget hearings underway and a court ruling on their side, superintendents from 29 urban school districts held press conferences Tuesday to call attention to the need for charter reform, inequities and school safety in urban schools.

Five Philadelphia-area superintendents spoke at Upper Darby High School as part of the caucus of Pennsylvania League of Urban Schools press conference, to call attention to the need for charter reform and funding inequities that are dramatically impacting children who attend urban schools.

The 29 districts teach over 300,000 students in the state.

Christopher Dormer, superintendent of Norristown Area School District and president of the PLUS caucus, said superintendents were speaking for students who have been underfunded and underserved for far too long.

Putting a face to one of those students, Dormer spoke about first grader Estefania, one of 140 students identified as an English learner. Her school has only three English language development teachers to help in 25 classrooms.

Dormer said his district has more than 1,550 English learners, a population that has grown by 104% in the past 10 years. The district has 31 professional staff members, with 50 students for each certified teacher.

Dormer said the district has been funded in an unconstitutional manner and districts like his have had to make difficult financial choices over the past 20 years. He said those choices have led to cutting staff, curtailing programs and raising local property taxes just to survive.

Dormer noted that when districts do receive funding outcomes are different. Over the past two years, his district has received $8 million in additional funding through the program Level Up.

“This has allowed us to significantly reverse the trend of cutting positions over the decade,” Dormer said. “Just these past two years we’ve added back 60 new staff positions … to reduce class size at all levels and we were able to hire reading specialists for the first time to serve our elementary schools.”

His district has seen an increase in reading proficiency thanks to the increased funding, but it is still shortchanged by $10 million a year.

Dormer also took aim at charter school funding and noted that more than 92% of the 500 school boards statewide have adopted resolutions supporting reform to Pennsylvania’s charter school law.

“If that doesn’t say bipartisan support, I don’t know what does,” Dormer said. “This isn’t about choice, this isn’t about competition, and this is about a charter funding formula that boosts the payment of cyber charter tuition and special education tuition significantly above the real costs that are incurred by charter and cyber charter schools to provide educational and specialized services.”

Unfunded mandates

Dr. Dan McGarry, Upper Darby superintendent agreed, saying forced cuts and reduction of public education, an increase in unfunded mandates along with the rise and expansion of cyber charter schools significantly altered public education in the state beginning in the mid-2000s.

McGarry said at one point districts were reimbursed by the state for the tuition cost of charter schools but that was changed. He said that the cost is over $8 million in Upper Darby to the budget and the district sends out $11 million to charter schools.

The overwhelming majority of students in Pennsylvania are enrolled in public schools, but the legislature lavishes funding on charters and Cybercharters.

Either the legislators don’t care about the future of their state or they got big campaign donations from the billionaire charter funders or Cybercharter lobbyists.