Pennsylvania Governor’s War Against Black Children

As featured in the Harrisburg, PA Patriot-News 

By Ken Kilpatrick

Next year will mark the twentieth anniversary of the creation of Pennsylvania’s Charter School Law.

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However, if Gov Tom Wolf has his way, there will be little or perhaps nothing left to celebrate.

Since taking office, Wolf has locked his sights on charter schools, effectively declaring war on many of the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable children.

During his first budget proposal, Wolf sought to slash public cyber charter school funding to a dollar amount that would make it impossible for a cyber to operate. Rather than studying what the real costs are to operate a cyber charter school, Wolf decided that choosing an arbitrary funding limit would be best.

That number was chosen based upon what it costs a certain Intermediate Unit to deliver a limited online program that does not come close to offering the comprehensive educational experience that a cyber charter school provides.

Wolf’s war is not limited to cyber charter schools. He is seeking to destroy all charters.

Gov. Tom Wolf has locked his sights on charter schools, declaring war on Pa.’s most vulnerable children.

The real issue is not about money as Mr. Wolf and his anti-public school choice allies would have Pennsylvanians believe. This is about Pennsylvania’s most vulnerable, challenged, and impoverished students.

Early in my career I met with Dr. Walter Palmer, a charter school pioneer, to seek his advice. Walt had long fought for civil rights and saw charter schools as an equal educational opportunity for inner city youth.

He implored me, “Ken, always remember charter schools are about black children.” I promised him I would.

Walt did not mean that charter schools were exclusively for African American children, which they are not.

He meant that charter schools are the key for so many impoverished children to find not only hope, but also a path to a successful future they could never otherwise obtain.

Having grown up in extreme urban poverty, I can, at least in part, understand how parents must feel who so desperately want something better for their children.

Whether he intends it or not, Mr. Wolf’s attacks on charters is a war against African American children.

It does not seem as if this millionaire businessman turned politician has the understanding or concern for the needs and rights of inner city families to have access to a fair opportunity for their children to obtain a decent education in a learning environment that understands, respects, and addresses those needs.

Rather, Wolf is seeking to rob these children of their only opportunity to escape substandard, overcrowded, and unsafe schools to obtain a quality education that will empower them to succeed in life.

Wolf is the only Pennsylvania governor who holds the distinction of proposing a new budget while the current year’s budget remains unresolved. In next year’s budget, he calls for cutting $500 million in charter school student funding which would force many public charter schools to go out of business.

He is also taking aim at special education students by gutting a huge amount of their funding. Citizens should raise serious questions about the character of anyone who would harm the ability of differently-abled children to receive the services and quality education they deserve.

Here’s the kicker. Wolf wants to eliminate the right of public charter schools to set aside reserve funds for future expenses.

Any knowledgeable Certified Public Account would agree having fund reserves is prudent, sound, and necessary.

But Wolf knows if he can get this provision through, charter schools will not have the money to survive another drawn out budget impasse.

This scenario would leave Wolf and his anti-public school choice colleagues the only ones left standing to celebrate Pennsylvania’s twentieth anniversary and now death of public school choice.

Ken Kilpatrick is CEO of Sylvia Marketing & Public Relations, a consultancy that specializes in marketing services for public charter schools, private schools, and higher education.

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