WHEN RANDY BARTLETT decided to open a new school for Pittsburghers who wanted an alternative to the city's public system, he knew it couldn't be a charter school.
"I worked 12 years in charter schools, and I have nothing against those schools," he says. "But if they were initially created to serve as the research and development wing of the public education system, they are not really fulfilling that function. Pennsylvania's regulatory burden is too heavy."
Opening a charter school in Pittsburgh is incredibly difficult, thanks to staunch opposition by the board of directors for Pittsburgh Public Schools. In February, the body rejected a bid from Imani Christian Academy, which wanted to become a secular charter school. It also attempted to stop Catalyst Academy, a proposed college preparatory K-8 institution, but lost at the state's Charter School Appeal Board.
"Obviously there needs to be rigorous review of applications, and not anyone should just be opening a school. But the process can be so onerous that the state's charter school law is rendered moot," says Catalyst CEO Brad Smith.
Instead of going up against the education bureaucracy, Bartlett decided to launch an "alternative school," called City of Bridges High School. Alt schools can come in all shapes and sizes, but they generally encourage self-guided learning and democratic processes.
After applying for incorporation and 501(c)(3) nonprofit status, Bartlett's team still had to clear the city's zoning hurdles, then deal with occupancy and facilities regulations. But the process was still easier...