Pennsylvania charter school sports draws debate

  • By Peter Jackson
    Associated Press April 1, 2014

HARRISBURG – A proposal to limit sports programs at charter schools in Pennsylvania drew indignation from charter school advocates at a legislative meeting Tuesday.

Currently, charter school students who want to play multiple sports must play for their charter school teams if that sport is offered and, for other sports, may play on teams at their neighborhood public school.

But Bob Lombardi, director of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association, which governs scholastic sports in the state, said the arrangement constitutes a “dual enrollment” status for charter school students that is not available to students who attend public school or who are home-schooled.

Charter schools are privately run public schools that are financed with payments from the students’ local school districts. Lombardi said some charters use their unique status to build “all-star” boys’ basketball teams that steamroller public school teams in state championship tournaments.

“From a competitive standpoint, charter schools have made obsolete any realistic competition with traditional public schools,” Lombardi told the special legislative panel.

Lombardi recommended legislation that would require charter school students to play on public school teams in their home districts unless that sport is offered only by the charter school. He said the plan “maintains school loyalty, makes eligibility uniform for all students, focuses athletic funds for residents at the public school and eliminates the substantial competitive inequities which have become apparent.”

But Lawrence Jones Jr., president of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools, said the PIAA proposal would mean unequal treatment for their schools.

“What message are we sending?” Jones asked. “I can’t believe that this is coming from the PIAA.”

Chris Shovlin, board president of Lincoln Park Performing Arts Charter School in Midland, whose boys’ basketball team defeated another charter school to win this year’s PIAA Class A title, stressed that money for athletics comes from the school’s booster club, not taxpayers.

“What is the issue? It seems to me that this is about charters being too competitive, winning too many games and the ‘almighty dollar,”’ Shovlin said.

Rep. Gene DiGirolamo, R-Bucks, who organized the informational meeting, said afterward that he urged the two sides to try to resolve their differences. It’s “not my intention right now to do anything legislatively,” he said.

The PIAA comprises 1,416 senior and junior high schools, including 45 charter schools.

Jones, who is also the principal at a charter school in Philadelphia, said the state has 174 charter schools, including 14 Internet-based cyber charters. More than 120,000 students are enrolled and 40,000 are on waiting lists.


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