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Hearing on charter schools brings out varied opinions

State Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale got an earful during a daylong meeting in Philadelphia on Friday on ways to improve the accountability and effectiveness of charter schools.

Paul Kihn, deputy superintendent of the Philadelphia School District, warned that if Harrisburg passed pending legislation that would permit the unlimited growth of charters, the cost to the district would be so devastating that it might not be able to manage its own schools.

Lawrence Jones Jr., head of Richard Allen Preparatory Charter School in Southwest Philadelphia, said the state needs to provide equitable funding for both district and charter schools.

"This grand experiment is one that is about to collapse under its own weight, because we are doing such a poor job in oversight," said Donna Cooper, executive director of Public Citizens for Children and Youth.

Kyle Serrette, education director for the Washington-based Center for Popular Democracy, said his organization was stunned by the number of federal fraud cases involving charter officials that have occurred in Pennsylvania in recent years.

His group, which works with community groups and unions, called for "a comprehensive investigation that allows the public, regulators, and legislators to better understand the depth of the problem" to improve oversight.

And Philadelphia City Controller Alan Butkovitz told the auditor general that his office is taking another look at the district's charter school office and a group of city charter schools.

The review, which he expects to be completed in a few months, is a follow-up to a study his office completed in 2010 which found that the charter office "was not doing its job" overseeing the schools and that questionable practices were rampant at 13 charters it reviewed.

It was the fifth and final meeting that DePasquale has held across the state to gather input on improving the state's 174 taxpayer-funded charters, which enroll 120,000 students.

Philadelphia is home to 86 charters with 67,000 students.