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Feds: Pa. can’t give special treatment to charter schools

Those results are no longer valid.

Bob Fayfich, executive director of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools, whose organization lobbied Tomalis to make the change, said he had not seen the federal order and declined comment.

Tim Eller, spokesman for the state Department of Education, said the federal ruling will allow Pennsylvania to give charter schools two AYP grades—one at the school level, and another at the school district level. That’s because the federal government agreed with Pennsylvania that charter schools are local government agencies, the same designation as a school district, for purposes of calculating AYP. The designation, he said, will allow charters to enjoy the same “grade span loophole” as districts.

East Penn Superintendent Thomas Seidenberger said the state never should have made the change without seeking federal approval. It created an unfair playing field that pitted traditional public schools against charter schools, and he is anxious to see the true AYP results for charter schools.

“It should never have been calculated one way for us and [another for charter schools],” Seidenberger said. “People should not have asterisks.”

Meanwhile, a legal advocacy group is calling on the state Department of Education to temporarily stop approving more cyber charter schools, saying there is little evidence the schools improve student learning, but a lot of evidence they drain tax dollars.

The Education Law Center, headquartered in Philadelphia, on Nov. 21 requested a one-year moratorium on approvals. The move came five days before the state agency starts reviewing applications for eight more cyber charter schools.

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The state does an inadequate job of reviewing the academic and financial performance of the 16 existing cyber charter schools, said Marnie Kaplan, a lawyer for center, which advocates for student and parental education rights.

If the new applications are approved, she said, the agency would be in jeopardy of violating the state charter school law because it would not have the manpower to oversee 24 cyber charter schools, many of which are run by for-profit companies and overcharge taxpayers for services.

“The department does not appear to have the current capacity to handle these legally mandated and very important oversight and accountability functions,” Kaplan said in a statement.

Education department spokesman Tim Eller said the department is adequately staffed to cover cyber charter schools.

East Penn Superintendent Seidenberger disagreed. He said 11 cyber charter schools have consistently failed to reach federal testing benchmarks, yet the state has done nothing to close them.

“I think a lot of us would feel a lot better if there was policing of the current ones before they start looking at any new ones,” Seidenberger said.

(c) 2012, The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.). Visit The Morning Call online at www.mcall.com. Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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