Archives for category: Pennsylvania

The Chester Upland school district in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, will return to school even though the district has no money to pay them. The district is in a deep financial hole because of former Governor Corbett’s deep budget cuts and the charter schools that drain funding from the public schools. Chester Upland might be the first school district o go bankrupt because of competition with a charter school whose for profit owner is ranking in millions.

These educators are heroes of public education. They are truly doing it “for the kids” at personal sacrifice to themselves and their families. They join the honor roll of the blog.

On Thursday, about 200 members of the local teachers union voted unanimously to work without pay as the new school year opens. They were joined by secretaries, school bus drivers, janitors and administrators.

“The thought of it is very scary,” said John Shelton, 60, dean of students at the district’s only middle school and a 23-year employee. “It’s mind-boggling because there’s truly uncertainty. But we are all in agreement that we will come to work, so that the children can get an education.”

Shelton, who will be able to count on some income from his moonlighting job as a janitor, said he and his colleagues are willing to sacrifice because the students rely on the schools. “Some of our children, this is all they have as far as safety, their next nourishing meal, people who are concerned for them,” he said. “We are dedicated to these children.”

The district is about 20 miles west of Philadelphia and serves roughly 3,300 students, most them low-income.

A similar financial collapse occurred in the district in 2012, and the teachers also agreed to work without pay then. In the end, a federal judge ordered the state to pay the district, and lawmakers arranged a bailout, so that employees’ paychecks were just a couple of days late.

Chester Upland’s current fiscal crisis, however, is more serious, said Jeff Sheridan, a spokesman for Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D).

“They are in such dire financial shape right now,” he said, “unless something drastic happens . . . the school district is in danger of not existing.”

The governor is grateful to the teachers and other employees who are willing to work without pay, Sheridan said, adding, “It’s helpful and we commend them.”

But it’s not a solution, he said.

Chester Upland is facing a $22 million deficit that could grow to more than $46 million without major intervention, Sheridan said. He blamed several factors: local mismanagement, state cuts in education spending under the previous governor and a state law that requires traditional school districts to pay charter schools significant amounts for students who live within their boundaries but attend charters.

Public charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately run, have been growing to the point that they educate nearly half the students who live in the Chester Upland district. Chester Upland pays local charter schools about $64 million in tuition payments — more than it receives in state school aid.

State law includes a funding formula that is especially generous toward special education students who attend charters; Chester Upland has to spend $40,000 per student per year for every special education student from its district who enrolls in a charter school. That’s twice the amount the district spend on its own students with special education needs and more than any other district in the state, Sheridan said.

Chester Community Charter School, a nonprofit institution managed by a for-profit company, is the largest charter in the district. It began in 1998 with 100 students and now enrolls 2,900 students, nearly as many as attend the traditional public school system.

This week, a Pennsylvania judge denied a request by Wolf and Chester Upland officials to reduce the district’s payments for special education to charters by about half, or nearly $21 million, in the 2015-16 school year.

Wolf based his request on a recommendation by a 2013 bipartisan legislative commission that the law should be changed to bring payments to charter schools more in line with what it costs traditional public schools to educate special needs students. The committee also recommended lower payments to online charter schools, which currently get the same per-pupil payments that brick and mortar schools receive. That change would save the Chester Upland district an additional $4 million a year, state officials said.

Tell the story of the teachers and staff at Chester Upland the next time you hear someone complain about “greedy” teachers who put their interests before the interests of their students. Maybe StudentsFirst could offer to pay the salaries of the teachers who are working for free?

For the past few years, the impoverished Chester County public schools in Pennsylvania have been in deep deficit because of competition with charter schools and cyber charters that suck funding away from the public schools.

The biggest charter school is the Chester Community Charter School, founded and operated by multimillionaire Vehan Gureghian, a lawyer and businessman who was a major contributor to former Republican Governor Tom Corbett and a member of his education transition team.

Governor Tom Wolf tried to save the public schools of Delaware County by reducing the exorbitant amount of special education funding that is transferred from the public schools to charter schools and reducing the equally egregious funding of cyber schools. But his plan was rejected by a judge yesterday.

The Keystone State Education Coalition posted these articles this morning, which explain the situation:

“The district pays local charter schools about $64 million in tuition payments – more than it gets in state aid – to educate about half of its 7,000 students.”

Judge rejects Wolf challenge to charter funding

MARI A. SCHAEFER AND CAITLIN MCCABE, INQUIRER STAFF WRITERS POSTED: Tuesday, August 25, 2015, 9:41 PM

A Delaware County judge ruled Tuesday that the Chester Upland School District must abide by the state’s charter school funding formula and keep paying the charter schools that now educate about half of the struggling district’s students. After a hearing that stretched two days, Common Pleas Judge Chad Kenney said the commonwealth’s plan was “wholly inadequate” to restore the district to financial stability. He also faulted the state and district’s lawyers for failing to provide “meaningful specifics or details” as to how they arrived at the plan. Kenney did approve two smaller requests: He said the district can hire a turnaround specialist and a forensic auditor.

The ruling was a setback for the Wolf administration and the district’s state appointed receiver, Frances Barnes, who had contended Chester Upland schools might not be able to open next week without a change to the formula. It was not clear if they would seek to appeal Kenney’s ruling.

http://www.philly.com/philly/news/local/20150826_Judge_rejects_Wolf_challenge_to_charter_funding.html#FaBkHDktlZRAO83z.99

Judge derails Pa. plan for Chester Upland recovery

By Vince Sullivan, Delaware County Daily Times POSTED: 08/25/15, 10:33 PM EDT

CHESTER >> Just minutes after a public meeting with the receiver of the Chester Upland School District ended with an impassioned plea for support of the public school system, a Delaware County judge denied proposals to alter charter school funding which would have eliminated a $22 million structural deficit. President Judge Chad F. Kenney denied portions of a plan proposed by Receiver Francis V. Barnes, with the support of Gov. Tom Wolf and the state Department of Education, that sought to reduce payments to charter and cyber charter schools that educate Chester Upland School District. Barnes was seeking to cap the regular education tuition reimbursement for cyber charter students at $5,950, and to reduce the tuition reimbursement for special education students in brick-and-mortar charter schools from $40,000 to $16,000. Both changes would have been consistent with the recommendations of two bipartisan school funding commissions. Other portion of the plan calling for a forensic audit, a financial turnaround specialist and the delay of a loan repayment were approved.

http://www.delcotimes.com/general-news/20150825/judge-derails-pa-plan-for-chester-upland-recovery

Chester Upland charters struggle to account for $40,000 price tag for special education

WHYY Newsworks BY LAURA BENSHOFF AUGUST 25, 2015

In court Tuesday, charter schools in the Chester Upland district defended their claim to $40,000 in tuition for each special-education student they enroll. According to Pennsylvania’s calculations, the charters need — and, in fact, currently spend — well below that on those students.

The debate about how much money charters need to fulfill federal requirements for a “free appropriate public education” for special-education students is at the heart of reforms proposed by Gov. Tom Wolf and the district’s receiver, Francis Barnes, last week. And it’s at the center of a battle in Delaware County court this week between state and charter school officials.

Witnesses for the state Department of Education said Tuesday that none of the schools claimed spending more than $25,000 per special-education student in annual self-reports.

http://www.newsworks.org/index.php/local/item/85551-chester-upland-charters-struggle-to-account-for-40000-price-tag-for-special-education

So what exactly is in that Chester Upland Charter Special Sauce?

Here’s the bottom line on Chester Upland charter school special education funding. Would this have been allowed to go on for years if charter schools were “public” in more than name only and were subject to taxpayer scrutiny on a regular basis?

Right-to-know requests for financial information regarding the operations of Charter School Management Company have been blatantly ignored for years.

“Let’s look at Chester Upland’s special education enrollment, while considering that, in general, special education students diagnosed with autism, emotional disturbance and intellectual disability require the highest expenditures, while those with speech and language impairments require the lowest expenditures.

Special education students on the autism spectrum – generally requiring high expenditures – make up 8.4 percent of the entire special education population at the school district, compared to 2.1 percent at Chester Community Charter School and zero percent at Widener Partnership and Chester Community Schoolof the Arts.

In the emotional disturbance category, another often requiring high expenditures, 13.6 percent of all special education students are categorized as emotionally disturbed in the school district, compared to 5.3 percent at Chester Community Charter, none at Widener or Chester Community School of the Arts.

For the intellectual disability category, the final category generally requiring high expenditures, the school district again serves a much larger percentage of this category: 11.6 percent for the school district, 2.8 for Chester Community Charter School and none for the others.

Conversely, for special education students requiring the lowest expenditures, the speech and language impaired, only 2.4 percent of the school district’s special education population falls into this category, compared to 27.4, 20.3 and 29.8 percent, respectively, at the charters.

Clearly the lion’s share of the need requiring the highest expenditures remains with the school district, but an exorbitant amount of funding goes to charters, where most special education needs can be addressed for comparatively low cost.”

Guest Column: The case for the Wolf recovery plan
Delco Times Letter by Frances Barnes POSTED: 08/24/15, 10:24 PM EDT

To the Times:

This is an open letter from Chester Upland School District Receiver Francis V. Barnes.

This afternoon (Aug. 24), Chester Upland School District and the Pennsylvania Department of Education will appear before President Judge Chad Kenney seeking approval of an amended Financial Recovery Plan to restore financial integrity and balance the books, which is vital for the district and the charter schools it funds. The plan treats charters fairly by not reducing payments made for about 70 percent of charter students, but it does reduce unreasonable special education and cyber payments to charter schools. Reducing unreasonable payments will make the allocation of funds more equitable for all students in the Chester, Chester Township, and theUpland geographical area, regardless of which school they attend. Under the current formula, funds for special education students are not allocated equitably. The district is required to pay charter schools more than $40,000 per special education student, regardless of the actual cost to educate that student, while the district receives less than needed to educate its own special education students.

http://www.delcotimes.com/opinion/20150824/guest-column-the-case-for-the-wolf-recovery-plan

Here’s Dan Hardy’s coverage of the same issue from 2012:

Chester Upland: State special ed formula drains millions from district

By Dan Hardy, Inquirer Staff Writer
POSTED: FEBRUARY 06, 2012
As Delaware County’s financially troubled Chester Upland School District struggles to stay afloat, officials there say they are paying millions more than they should on special-education students who attend charter schools.
School districts pay charters to teach their children, using a complicated formula set by state law. About 45 percent of Chester Upland’s students attend charters.

Chester Upland’s payments are based on the previous year’s expense of educating students in its own schools, minus some costs charters do not incur.

For regular-education Chester Upland students this year, that figure is $9,858 per child.

But flaws in the state charter-school law, district officials say, make payments to charter schools for special-education students much higher, costing Chester Upland about $8 million more than is reasonable.
Chester Upland’s per-student special-education charter-school payment this year is $24,528, more than twice as much as for regular students and thousands per student more than the state average.
http://articles.philly.com/2012-02-06/news/31030424_1_charter-schools-special-education-cost-special-education

Pennsylvania’s test scores dropped again. Rigor!

The curriculum is developmentally inappropriate, the tests are two grade levels above grade level. Class sizes are growing because of budget cuts. Money has been sucked out of public schools to fund privately managed charters.

Rigor was designed to fail more students and pave the way for privatization. It is working.

At the annual meeting of Pennsylvania AFT, the leaders of the union called on the legislature to eliminate the test-based teacher evaluation system. Because of the inducements offered by Race to the Top, almost every state spent many millions to design a new teacher evaluation process, based on Arne Duncan’s insistence that such a system would weed out “bad” teachers. Behind that assumption is the wacky belief that bad teachers cause low test scores.

Last year, the first year of the new system, 98.2% of teachers were rated satisfactory or higher.

This year, 97% of Pittsburgh’s teachers were rated proficient or distinguished. The statewide figures for this year are not yet available.

“AFT Pennsylvania president Ted Kirsch said, “The law was based on a false narrative that low-performing schools exist primarily because of ineffective teachers, which is not the case. There are many factors involved in student success that are not given the proper weight under Pennsylvania’s new teacher evaluation system. The result is a system that gives high marks to educators working in well-funded schools with few disadvantaged students and penalizes teachers who take the tough assignments in under-funded schools with large concentrations of students from low-income families or with special needs or English language learners.”

“The release stated the delegates want a system that is “transparent and understandable by teachers and the community“ and is “primarily a professional growth system that supports teachers in their development and differentiates evaluation for new and experienced teachers to ensure that new teachers who are in need of support are not driven away.”

Morning Call By Marc Levy Of The Associated Press

HARRISBURG — In theory, Pennsylvania school districts whose communities are similar economically are supposed to receive about the same amount of money per student from the state. But, with politics muscling in on how public school aid was distributed in the last two decades, officials have long complained about gaping disparities in public school aid.

Some communities now get half as much per-student aid as those with similar economic circumstances. On Thursday, a panel of lawmakers and top advisers to Gov. Tom Wolf is to recommend a way to close the gap, an effort that comes as Wolf is seeking the biggest one-year boost in public school aid in the state’s history. An Associated Press review of state data shows per-student funding differences can be great. For example, take Purchase Line School District in Indiana County and Curwensville Area School District in Clearfield County. Deemed by the state to have nearly identical wealth, the relatively small districts are neighbors and are similar in enrollment. But Purchase Line is getting about $8,700 per student, based on the latest average enrollment figures available, while Curwensville gets about $6,500 per student, about one-third less. Or take Northampton Area School District in Northampton County and Wilson School District in Berks County. About 30 miles apart and nearly identical in average enrollment and wealth, Northampton Area gets about $2,300 per student, while Wilson gets barely half that.

“It makes no sense,” said Arnold Hillman, a former superintendent and a founder of the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools. “It hasn’t made sense in years.” The disparities, which go back 25 years, are under the microscope as the state tries to confront them.

http://www.mcall.com/news/nationworld/pennsylvania/mc-pa-public-school-funding-20150617-story.html

Like every other state, Pennsylvania spent many tens of millions (or more) to develop a new teacher evaluation system. Guess what?

Teachers got their highest ratings ever!

“In the first year of many school districts using a new statewide teacher evaluation system, a greater portion of teachers was rated satisfactory than under the old system.

“In figures released by the state Department of Education, 98.2 percent of all teachers were rated as satisfactory in 2013-14 — the highest percentage in five years — despite a new system that some thought would increase the number of unsatisfactory ratings.”

“In the four prior years, 97.7 percent of teachers were rated satisfactory in all but 2009-10, when 96.8 percent were. These figures count teachers in school districts, career and technical centers, intermediate units and charter schools.”

Pennsylvania is fortunate to have so many good teachers!

Whom shall we blame now?

Peter Greene reports a shocking development (for operators of cyber-charters): Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf has said that he wants to reduce payments to cyber-charters, the online charter schools that are usually offered by for-profit corporations. Cyber-charters receive full state tuition for every student they enroll, and every dollar is subtracted from funding of local district schools that the student otherwise would have attended. Numerous studies have shown that the virtual schools have high attrition (as much as 50% a year), low test scores, and low graduation rates. But they are very profitable.

 

This is actually a shocking development for critics of virtual charters because their usual modus operandi is to sprinkle campaign contributions to key legislators and the governor, thus protecting their cash cow.

 

Greene writes:

 

 

Pennsylvania cyber charters are Very Sad, because the new governor of the state is threatening to end their long-standing party.

 

 

Years ago, a local departing superintendent offered a few words of advice. “If you want to get rich,” he said, “go start a cyber school.” He was not kidding. For the past decade-plus, running a Pennsylvania cyber charter has been as good as printing money. Despite their abysmal record of academic failure, Pennsylvania cybers rake in money hand over fist.

 

 

There’s no big secret to it– a cyber is paid the full per-capita home district cost of every student it enrolls. If it costs East Bucksawanna $10,500 per child to provide buildings and maintenance and infrastructure and resources and teachers and books and all the rest, then the Gotrox Cyber Acdemy gets that same $10,500, with which it provides the student with a computer (free!!) and access to a teacher or two (each of whom is carrying several hundreds of students).

 

 

It’s like running a dealership where every customer will pay the purchase price of their last brand new luxury automobile and in return, all you have to give them is some object with wheels.

 

 

This has been a point of contention in PA because every cent that goes into cyber coffers comes straight out of public school tax dollars. Every student that a cyber enrolls is a budget cut for public schools, and the cuts are vicious and deep and resulting in loss of programs, closing of schools, and furloughs of teachers. Taxpayers are complaining to public schools, “What the hell did you do with all that money I gave you,” and public schools reply, “That guy right over there [pointing at cyber charter] took it, and that guy right over there [pointing at legislator] says I have to let it happen.” People are getting pissed off. The baloney about how the money follows the child isn’t convincing, because people are now seeing that the child not only takes his own family’s money, but the tax dollars from all the neighbors on his street, too.

 

 

Cyber charters in PA have created whole new traditions. For instance, a cyber school may test a student to determine if the student has special needs. Why would they care? Perhaps because they get roughly $10K for regular students and $25K for students with special needs.

 

 

There’s also the tradition of enrollment day, on which guidance counselors and cyber schoolsters sit at their computers and toss students back and forth like hot potatoes on a reverse e-bay. Why? Well, there are two magic dates on the cyber calendar. After one certain date, the school gets to keep the money even if the kid leaves the cyber. After enrollment day, whoever still has the kid has to count that students test scores as their own.

 

 

Anyway. Governor Wolf has raised a fun question– how much does it actually cost to educate a cyber-student? Because shouldn’t it cost, you know, less? And if so, why should taxpayers pay more? No other public school (because, like all charters, cybers insist on calling themselves public schools) sets a budget that includes an extra couple of million just to feather the nest.

 

 

Just as a footnote, two operators of virtual charters are currently under indictment for the misappropriation of millions of dollars. Not like a principal or an assistant principal stealing petty cash. Big-time money. Millions.

 

The largest chain of virtual charters is K12, Inc. It was created by Michael Milken, noted non-educator, and his brother Lowell, also a non-educator. It is listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

 

 

Supporters of public schools are happy in Pittsburgh!

The sky may be falling in other cities and states but not in Pittsburgh.

Blogger Jessie Ramey (“Yinzercation”) explains why the citizens of Pitttsburgh are enjoying “sunshine and happiness.”

They have been organizing and building grassroots alliances for a long time. And it paid off with the election of a pro-public schools slate of candidates in the recent election.

Testing resistance is strong and growing, inspired to a large extent by English teacher Mary King’s refusal to administer the state tests to her English language learners.

Newly elected Governor Tom Wolf has proposed more funding for the public schools, as he had promised. He is turning out to be the real deal, not a politician who relies on hedge fund money and dances to their tune.

The public school advocates (“Great Public Schools Pittsburgh”) are now working to reduce suspensions and push-outs, which have a disparate impact on students of color and students with disabilities. They have a forward-thinking plan to help the students who most need help, not suspension from school.

As you see, there are many reasons to celebrate in Pittsburgh. The lesson for the rest of us is the importance of grassroots activism and coalition-building. When parents are informed, they don’t want to lose their public schools to entrepreneurs. Getting the word out and organizing is the work before us.

Testing expert Fred Smith sends out a warning to parents in Néw York City: Pearson field tests begin Monday.

But keep it a secret. No one knows. The scores don’t count because the tests are testing the questions, not the teachers.

Should parents be told? Shouldn’t they give consent? Should Pearson pay the students?

.

Gary Rubinstein knows reformers better than most people. He started his career in Teach for America in Houston in the early 1990s and eventually became a career math teacher in New York City. He is one of the most perceptive critics of reform, having started in the early days of the movement.

In this post, he deconstructs the boasts of Kevin Huffman about the Achievement School District in Tennessee. Huffman is now trying to export this model to other states, despite its failure thus far to achieve its goals. Rubinsteinreviews the record of the ASD and finds it mixed at best:

“Just by the numbers, the results are truly mixed. Of the original 6 ASD schools that are currently in their third year under the ASD, two schools have improved, two have stayed about the same, and two have gotten worse.” Some success.

“ASD tries to put all the positive spin they can on their results, but the thing that they try not to mention is that in this past year the ASD got the lowest possible score on their ‘growth’ metric, a 1 out of 5. In Tennessee they take their ‘growth’ scores very seriously. They have been experimenting with this kind of metric for over twenty years and they base school closing decisions on it and also teacher evaluations. So it is hypocritical, though not surprising, that Huffman fails to mention that the ASD, on average, got the lowest possible score on this last year, and instead they focus on the two schools that have shown test score improvements.”

Rubinstein writes:

“There is absolutely no reason why Kevin Huffman should be given the opportunity to pitch his ideas to the Pennsylvania senate or in the media over there. It is like a state trying to improve their economy and asking for guidance from a man who got rich by winning the lottery. Huffman is a person who knows very little about education, but who has been very lucky to get to where he is. He taught first grade for two years, spent a bunch of years working for Teach For America, got appointed as Tennessee education commissioner mainly because of his famous ex-wife, and only managed to keep his job for three years before basically getting run out of town. He has gotten credit for the 4th and 8th grade NAEP gains between 2011 and 2013, but has taken none of the blame for the lack of progress for 12 graders or for the recent drops in the Tennessee State reading test scores. This is a new kind of phenomenon, the edu-celebrity who rises to power, leaves after a few years having accomplished very little, and then making a living as a consultant. Some gig.”

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