What is a charter school?
A charter school is a school that is publicly funded, but privately operated. Charter schools claim they are tuition-free, however its funds come from taxpayer dollars paid to the resident’s home public school district that is responsible for the tuition of those students who live within the district’s boundaries, but attend a charter school. Bellefonte Area School District offers transportation up to 10 miles from the district’s border for students attending a charter school.
Charter schools were established more than 25 years ago, after the passing of the charter school law, as a way to create alternative and more flexible education with specialized curriculum often by focusing on a set of skills or studies, rather than the whole. Commonly created by nonprofit groups, charter schools are generally for-profit enterprises and have appointed board members who may be paid for their roles, rather than elected officials as you would see at public school districts across the commonwealth. Bellefonte Area School District is served by nine elected school board members. You can learn more about the Bellefonte Area school board, here: Bellefonte Area school board
Visit this link to learn more about charter schools by the state Department of Education: Charter schools, PDE
Charter school funding
In the 2018-19 school year, Bellefonte Area School District funded tuition for 10 charter schools in the amount of more than $2.523 million -- an increase from more than $2.384 million in the 2017-18 school year and $2.018 million from the school year before that. The district has $2.75 million budgeted for charter school costs in the 2019-20 school year -- nearly a $2 million increase from five years ago. See a breakdown of charter school costs by Bellefonte Area School District, here: Charter school costs
Local charter schools
There are brick-and-mortar charter schools in Centre County. Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School also has an office at 1700 S. Atherton St., State College.
- Centre Learning Community Charter School
- Nittany Valley Charter School
- Wonderland Charter School*
- Young Scholars Charter School of Central Pennsylvania
*Wonderland Charter School closed in 2018 after a lawsuit against the school due to inadequate education including issues with student achievement, lack of staff certifications, improper compensation and staffing, and more. A three-month investigation also found ethics violations and discrimination against special education students. To see information about the school's Future Ready PA Index, visit this link: School Performance Profile. To read more about the lawsuit and closure, visit these links:
- Charter may not be renewed for Wonderland (Centre County Gazette)
- Charter may not be renewed for Wonderland (Centre Daily Times)
- Civil action taken against Wonderland Charter School (Centre Daily Times)
- Legal action against Wonderland Charter School (WTAJ)
- Wonderland Charter School in danger of losing charter (WJAC)
- Charter school law, health code and ethics violations at Wonderland Charter School (Centre Daily Times)
- Officials report Wonderland Charter School discriminated against special education student (WJAC)
- Wonderland Charter School closes its doors (Centre Daily Times)
- Wonderland Charter closing after review by school district uncovers 'systemic' failures (WPSU)
A 2019 report from the Education Week Research Center shows that graduation rates for charter schools "have suffered from chronically low graduation rates" of less than 50 percent since the 2010-11 school year. Education Week further reports about low graduation rates specifically at cyber charter schools. See the article, here: Online charter school graduation trend
You can find more information in the link about graduation rates of cyber charter schools attended by student residents living within Bellefonte Area School District, which tuition was paid for by the district in the 2018-19 school year: Charter School graduation rates. Of the 39 students attending cyber charter schools, 10 were retained. That compares to 20 students from Bellefonte Area School District of a 2,626-student population who were retained during the same school year -- and none from Bellefonte eLearning Academy, the district's cyber education program. Learn more about retention rates, here: Retention rates
At Bellefonte Area High School, the graduation rate is 98 percent of students who start at BAHS the beginning of their senior year and graduate on time; and 92.8 percent of students who start at the high school in their freshman year and graduate on time, according to data from the PA Future Ready Index.
Charter School Law
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Education, all schools in the Bellefonte Area School District have 100 percent highly-qualified teachers under the No Child Left Behind act, and all professional staff are 100 percent certified by the state to hold and practice in their positions. Professional staff includes counselors, librarians, nurses, psychologists and teachers.
In Pennsylvania, Charter School Law requires only 75 percent of professional staff members of a charter school to hold appropriate Pennsylvania certification. In order to be counted toward the 75 percent, an individual must hold an active and valid professional certification and must be properly certified in all areas or subjects they are teaching or hold an emergency permit for the proper area/subject being taught. Learn more in this link about state-mandated charter school policy: Charter School Law
"With important exceptions, charter schools are generally exempt from the requirements of the School Code and other laws that apply to school districts," the law adds.
According to policy, when authorized, the charter is the legally binding agreement between the chartering school district and a charter school. A charter may be renewed for five-year periods upon reauthorization by the chartering school district. Conditions placed on a charter school by a chartering school district must enable the district to exercise oversight of the charter school, be consistent with the provisions of CSL and be mutually agreed upon. The brick-and-mortar charter schools listed above are in the Centre Region of Centre County within the boundaries of State College Area School District.
Cyber charter schools
Cyber charter schools are established when the state Department of Education grants the cyber charter applicant a charter. Oversight PDE is responsible for the oversight of cyber charter schools that it has chartered, including decisions whether to renew, non-renew or revoke the charter. You can review cyber charter school policy, here: Cyber Charter Schools
In Pennsylvania, most cyber charter schools operate with expired state agreements. In an investigative report published January 2019 by the Philadelphia Inquirer, it found that 10 of 15 cyber charter schools in Pennsylvania were operating with expired charters. Bellefonte Area School District is in support of cyber charter school reform after finding that cyber charter schools in Pennsylvania fall in the bottom five percent. The district also offers its own cyber program, called Bellefonte eLearning Academy, with benefits that can't be found at cyber charter schools. To learn more about the BeLA program, visit this link: Q&A with Rebecca Leitzell
Read a response from PDE's Communication Director Nicole Reigelman regarding the operation of expired charters: Response from PA Department of Education. The Bellefonte Area school board also passed a resolution to support cyber charter school funding reform. Learn more about it, here: Funding reform
According to Niche.com, a Pittsburgh-based ranking and review website, the three charter schools in Centre County, along with seven other charter schools in the commonwealth funded by Bellefonte Area School District in the 2018-19 school year, rank significantly lower than Bellefonte, which has a rating in the A’s. See more results, here: Charter school rankings
To learn more about Pennsylvania legislation for charter school reform, visit this link: Legislation and charter school reform