Common-sense call for leveling the field

April 5, 2014

When it comes to high school athletic competition between private and public schools, or between traditional public schools and charter schools, separate but equal would be fine. But as it stands now, the private, charter and regular public schools are operating on very unequal playing fields, and the traditional public schools are getting the short end of the stick.

The director of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association, which runs high school sports in the state, would like to do something about that, especially the inequity between regular public schools and charter schools. Bob Lombardi, in an appearance last week before a special legislative panel, noted that current rules are such that some charter school students could play some sports for the charter school and others for the public school in the district in which they live. That, he said, creates a “dual enrollment” status that is not afforded to regular public school students.

According to an Associated Press report, “Lombardi said some charters use their unique status to build ‘all-star’ boys basketball teams that steamroller public school teams in state championship tournaments.” He very well could have added Catholic schools to that statement. In the recently completed PIAA basketball championships, Catholic schools, while operating under very different rules than public schools, won state titles in three of the four girls classifications. On the boys side, Catholic schools won the Class AAA title and were in the Class AA and AAAA championship games. But Lombardi’s focus at last week’s meeting was Lincoln Park, a charter school in Midland that won the Class A boys championship.

When Lincoln Park obliterated Monessen earlier this year to claim the WPIAL title, it had thrashed its previous opponents by an average of about 35 points, with the sort of “all-star” team of which Lombardi spoke. In the PIAA playoffs, it similarly romped past the competition until finally getting a tough challenge in the finals – against another charter school. Lombardi, in the interest of fairness, would like state lawmakers to require students at charter schools play sports in their home school districts, unless a sport is not offered there.

That brought howls from the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools and the folks at Lincoln Park.

The president of the charter schools outfit, Lawrence Jones Jr., said what Lombardi is proposing would mean “unequal treatment” for the charter schools. There was nothing about this in the AP report, but he apparently said that with a straight face, while making no mention of the advantages his schools have in cherry-picking top athletic talent in their areas.

The president of the Lincoln Park board suggested public schools are just jealous of the Lincoln Park basketball team’s success, and he made a point to say the money for Lincoln Park’s athletic programs comes from the school’s booster club, rather than taxpayers. Let’s see, boosters funneling money into charter school athletic programs that can aggregate all-star-quality teams to crush regular public school squads? Remind us again who’s the victim of inequality.

To add insult to injury, taxpayers often have to foot the bill for transportation of students in their districts who choose to go to Catholic schools or other private schools, and charter schools are financed by taxpayers’ money from their students’ home districts.

It seems to us that it is long overdue for traditional public schools to compete only against other traditional public schools in high school athletics, and for a separate association to be created under which teams from parochial, private and charter schools can play for their own championships. One league for teams that can recruit; another for teams that can’t (at least theoretically).

Oh, one more thing about Lincoln Park. It’s a performing arts charter school. Can’t wait to see all those basketball blue-chippers in the spring musical.



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