School choice forum met with protest in Reading

READING, Pa. - Protesters gathered outside the DoubleTree Hotel in downtown Reading on Tuesday ahead of a planned forum on charter schools and school choice.

"The issues that Reading is facing and that Pennsylvania are facing are issues you are seeing across the country, It's a microcosm of the debate across the country," said panelist and California State University professor Julian Vasquez Heilig. "Charters are creating more segregation in our nation because parents are choosing more segregated charter schools than the traditional neighborhood schools they attend."

Jonathan Cetel, the executive director of PennCan, said it's about access by any other name.

"Private, parochial, cyber school, charter school, it's about making sure every kid has access to a high quality school," Cetel said. "I think the idea is we want to fund the individual and not just the system, we have to move to a model that embraces choice."

With an ongoing Pennsylvania state budget stalemate, both sides said they recognize the glaring challenges that exist when it comes to education funding.

"We shouldn't think of schools as a consumer product the way a fast-food restaurant is a consumer product," said Carol Burris, the executive director of the Network for Public Education.

As all sides came together for an open forum discussion, will the consumer market ultimately dictate where the school choice debate ends? Burris said she hopes that is not the case.

"It's undermining what's happening in our public schools, because it's draining the funds from those schools," Burris said.

For more information about future forums, you can visit the Berks County Community Foundation's website.

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