Educational Détente

The superintendent of Pittsburgh Public Schools wants to move relations with the charter schools in the City from what it is now, which she described as "certainly not a happy, collaborative one" to something else, where perhaps the PPS can learn by talking. About 10% of the PPS’ $520 million budget goes to pay for students living in the District but attending brick and mortar or cyber charter schools. The most recent audited financial statement on PPS’ website (for fiscal year 2009) showed that the ratio of PPS students to all charter students was 9.5 to 1. In 2002 the ratio was 36.6 to 1-slipping enrollment in the PPS (down 25% over that time frame) and a large boost in charter school enrollment will have that effect.

That is for total (brick and mortar and cyber) but from the article it does not appear that the superintendent is going to seek out the leadership of cyber charters, so a deeper look at the charter schools with a physical presence in the City of Pittsburgh is warranted. From the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s institution search within the Pittsburgh-Mt. Oliver intermediate unit it is shown that nine charter schools are in the City. Several CEOs of these schools were mentioned in the article, including one that has been around since 1998 and commented that relations in the beginning were "very adversarial…very tense".

Five charters in the City-Academy, Career Connections, City High, Manchester, and Urban League-reported total enrollment of 1,342 in the 2006-07 school year. With 30,885 students enrolled in PPS that year, the ratio of PPS students to students in those charters was 23 to 1. In 2011-12, those same five charters had boosted enrollment to 1,511 (up 13%) while PPS enrollment fell to 26,653 (down 14%). The ratio stood at 17 PPS to 1 charter student. It is important to note that two additional charters opened since 2008 and there are additional applications pending. In 2011-12 the nine charters in the City had a total enrollment of 2,284.

Has the passage of time and seeing the staying power of several charters led to the change in attitude on the part of PPS in seeking the meeting? Or is it simply different people in positions of power who may not be as openly hostile to charters? Is PPS trying to get some "trade secrets" on what the charters are doing well in order to emulate them and head off future enrollment and financial losses?