Candidates target charter schools

The four Democratic gubernatorial candidates on Friday promised to take a hard line against charter and cyber charter schools in Pennsylvania, from pulling the plug on ones that struggle to educate to refusing public dollars for ones operated by private companies.

Across the board, the candidates saved their biggest criticism for cyber charter schools, but also made it clear that some of the more traditional cyber schools are failing and unworthy of taxpayer money. They spoke at a two-hour forum at the annual convention of the Pennsylvania College Democrats at Temple University in Philadelphia.

Some pointed out that charter schools, despite several years of debate in the Legislature, are not accountable to state ethics and open records laws, and they echoed longstanding complaints in the Legislature that charter schools are overcompensated for their actual costs, such as pensions.

All four are public school boosters, while Republican Gov. Tom Corbett has battled public school teachers unions and sought to promote private, parochial and charter schools. He also has drawn heavy criticism for his budget-balancing cuts to schools in his first budget year, 2011.

Thus far, the Democratic candidates have largely avoided attacking each other in public, while concentrating their barbs toward Corbett. They also largely agree on the issues and took other questions Friday night on marijuana policy, the federal health care law and higher education affordability.