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In a three part series, Danielle Woods takes a look at charter schools.
February 11, 2014 - Gary Horton is a familiar face in the city of Erie, hosting classes and after school programs at the Quality of Life Learning Center.

As of late, he's been making his way into the media for his failed attempts to open a charter school.

The former member of the Erie school board has tried three times to open up the Erie New Americans Friendship Academy Charter School.

The school would focus primarily on teaching kids who are learning English as a second language, something he says is crucial with Erie's rapidly growing refugee community.

"The new American population has increased almost 800 percent since 2003," said Horton.

However, Horton says in recent years, those trying to open up charter schools in Erie don't stand a chance of getting approval from the board.

"We know the challenges that the Erie school district faces financially, it more or less has convinced us that more or less their mind was made up," he said.

The Erie school district, of course in the midst of working on an optimization plan, which would lead to the closure of some schools, but ultimately help save money.

However, with the district losing $8500 per student and $15,000 per special needs student out of basic education subsidies for students enrolled in charter schools, superintendent Dr. Jay Badams says new charter schools could hurt the district.

"People will say that the money follows the child since we're not educating that child, that we should realize some sort of savings, but if you think about, we have 18 schools, so we don't see enough of a loss of enrollment to warrant reducing staff or closing a school," said Badams.

Finances don't play a part in whether or not the board grants a charter though, as state and local funds are allocated to charters as part of legislation passed back in 1997.

There is a way people can go around the school board’s decision, by going to Harrisburg to appeal the ruling.

"What this does, is it allows small groups or special interest groups to start schools at taxpayer expense and circumventing the democratic process," said Badams.

However, Horton insists that for him, it's really all about helping out not only the refugee families, but also others in the community, and he says that his fight to open this school is far from over.

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