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Charters Challenge Candidate Forum

Charter Schools in Pittsburgh & Leaders throughout Pennsylvania Unite

Issue strong message to special interest sponsors of “Public Education Forum 2020” and the Democratic candidates ignoring parental demands

WASHINGTON  12.13.19 — Charter school leaders in Pittsburgh, joined by others throughout Pennsylvania, and by key state democratic officials issued strong statements today challenging the Democratic candidates for president who will be in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, this Saturday, December 14, 2019, at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center for the “Public Education Forum 2020: Equity and Justice for All.” Sponsored by unions and other interest groups, the Forum has sparked strong responses from the Pennsylvania charter school community, with its unfounded attacks upon the substantive work being carried out throughout the state and right in the city where the forum will be held.

“We call on the candidates to remember those who won’t be there: the thousands of parents from underserved communities tragically forced to watch their children suffer academically because of a failed system that refuses any real reform,” said representatives of 5 of the city’s charter schools in a statement, speaking on behalf of the state’s 143,000 charter school students and their parents.

“The Democratic Presidential candidates have been summoned to demonstrate their allegiance to the unions and special interests who they believe hold the key to their nomination,” said CER Founder & CEO Jeanne Allen. “Not invited were any charter or reform minded voices to participate in this nationally televised forum where Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf is expected to attend and criticize the very charter schools he has tried to keep from operating.” 

Many charter educators will be on the ground in Pittsburgh to make their voices heard, including Dara Ware Allen, PhD, CEO and Principal, City Charter High School; Dr. Tina Chekan, CEO/Superintendent, Propel Schools; Jon McCann, CEO, Environmental Charter School; Vasilios Scoumis, CEO, Manchester Academic Charter School; Brian Smith, Founder & CEO, Catalyst Academy Charter School; William C. Wade, Ed.S., CEO, Urban Pathways K5 College Charter School; and David Zeiler, CEO, Provident Charter School. They have issued the following statement in response to the Public Education Forum this Saturday.

“As eight potential future presidents gather here in Pittsburgh this Saturday and are hosted by some of the nation’s most powerful special interests, we call on the candidates to remember those who won’t be there: thousands of parents who want a high quality school and choose a public charter school in lieu of their underperforming assigned neighborhood school.  Hoping for a school to improve is not an equitable option for our students, many of whom are African American or from economically disadvantaged communities.  Such families deserve alternatives but do not have the means to move or explore non-public school options.  Our public charter schools provide life-altering opportunities to children for whom educational success would likely be denied.

“It is a disheartening irony that the tagline of this weekend’s forum is ‘equity and justice for all’ when parents, the most important constituency, are excluded from the conversation.  Regardless of zip code or background, all families deserve a system of high-quality schools and the power to choose the best school for their child.  Candidates should be committed to supporting what’s working well for students, whether that is in a traditional or public charter school.

“Our communities need champions of change who will fight for accountability, transparency, and innovation—not empty promises and pandering. As student performance lags and opportunity gaps widen, the candidates should aim their fury at the systems enabling this disparity, not the schools that parents are choosing. The nation will see if a profile in courage emerges—all he or she must do is pledge to put students first.”

David Hardy, Executive Director, Excellent Schools PA, Founder of Boys Latin Charter School, and CER Board Member is a passionate advocate for school choice and leader in organizing voices. “Much like in Washington, charters schools in Pennsylvania are under vicious assault for committing the unpardonable sin of promoting educational excellence by putting students first—and not caring what teachers’ unions have to say about it. This weekend, we can expect to hear the candidates pander to the public education industry by slinging mud at the very schools and innovators who are doing what the current system is failing to do: teach our children, challenge them rigorously, prepare them for tomorrow. In the very city that is hosting this forum, the facts have made clear that public schools are sentencing far too many students to futures hamstrung by hardship. It is time for those who claim to believe in fairness, equality, and opportunity to join the revolution already underway and support policies that help charter schools give life to those values each and every day.”

Charter leader from Mastery Charter Schools, Sharif El-Mekki  anticipated the topics that would be discussed during the forum saying, “When the presidential candidates take the stage in Pittsburgh this Saturday, they better be ready to demand answers from their hosts. As the Keystone scores show, Pittsburgh’s public school system is a heartbreaking disaster that is only getting worse. Despite the district spending an astounding $25,000 per student, proficiency in each subject is plummeting. The students are failing to learn because of a stubborn status quo that, by resisting real change and real accountability, is trampling on these children’s futures, most often Black, Latino, and poor students. I implore the candidates: use your voices and your platforms to support marginalized students who are being mis-educated and trapped in schools and systems steeped in inequity. We need presidential candidates with the courage to demonstrate real leadership by embracing and championing solutions that are actually proven to make a difference in the educational futures of children. We need presidential candidates crafting and championing plans that will be the difference between realized dreams and lifelong nightmares; a path towards educational justice. Anything less is unpresidential.”

Also in support of charter schools and actively working to break down barriers are Pennsylvania state representatives. Among them:

PA State Senator and Democratic Whip Anthony Hardy Williams (D-Delaware County, Philadelphia County) said, “While I am pleased to see education reform finally get the national attention it deserves this weekend, we must remember that there are many players at the table when it comes to fulfilling every child’s right to a quality education—including charter schools and the parents who fight so hard for them. Throughout the Philadelphia region, like so many places across the nation, charter schools are leading the way in performance, accountability, and innovation. At a time when the status quo is failing thousands of our students, especially those in underserved communities, charters give all families hope that equal opportunity is possible.”



Founded in 1993, the Center for Education Reform started with a simple premise—to achieve excellence in education. The first laws supporting charter schools, school choice offerings and even state standards were owing to CER’s leadership.

Today CER works to bring about every opportunity possible to expose learners at all levels, from K through Career, to the best innovations America can provide, a goal we know from our history is boundless.