New Castle News


March 15, 2013

Our Opinion: State must ensure funds aimed at education hit their mark

NEW CASTLE — In today’s world, a quality education is increasingly important.

That’s true not only for the individual, but for the nation as a whole. Competing effectively in the international marketplace requires a workforce that’s skilled and knowledgeable in key areas.

But in survey after survey, American students appear to be also-rans when it comes to rankings among industrialized nations in math, science and other fields.

The data has generated a range of concerns across the political spectrum, with various reforms put forward. While many carry a degree of controversy, they are designed to either add more money and intensity into education, or else stimulate competition intended to pressure underperforming schools to do better.

In Pennsylvania, charter schools are a key component of this competitive effort. They come in various forms. Many, such as one for arts and language being proposed in New Castle, are designed to appeal to specific areas of interest. Others seek to approach learning from different perspectives, including so-called cyber schools — where much of education is conducted online.

But while the number of charter schools in Pennsylvania is growing, they remain something of an experiment. As you may surmise, their success can be as variable as that found in regular public schools. And studies about their effectiveness to date reveal a mixed bag.

Meanwhile, budget matters in Harrisburg are prompting extra scrutiny on charter schools, particularly in terms of the funding they receive. Students who enter charter schools take their state subsidies with them, cutting funds to local districts.

However, charter schools — and especially cyber schools that have no physical buildings to maintain — tend to have lower costs than traditional public schools. What’s done with the extra money is raising questions. And in at least one instance, with a cyber school in Beaver County, the curiosity of federal investigators has been aroused.

Taxpayers pour a lot of money into education. They deserve to get the most out of that investment. At the state level, that means lawmakers must work to devise a balance that encourages innovation, while demanding fiscal accountability from both traditional schools and their charter counterparts.

As time passes, and research is better able to assess the success of charter schools, it may be possible to identify methods that achieve better results. If charter schools can advance educational efforts, they warrant strong support.

But it’s not too soon to demand that charter schools be fiscally accountable. Throwing extra money at education doesn’t make it better.

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