Archives for category: Pennsylvania

This is an excellent series of articles on the rise of the privatization movement in Pennsylvania. The bottom line, as usual: Follow the money.

 

If you want to understand the growth of charter schools in Pennsylvania, you must read this bombshell article by Daniel Simmons-Ritchie.

 

The charter lobby has spent millions to influence legislators. It also has the ability to mobilize hundreds of children to pack legislators’ offices, a tactic unavailable to public schools.

 

Pennsylvania does not allow for-profit charter schools, yet there are many for-profit charter schools in the state.

 

Do you want to know who is making money by sponsoring charters? The article has the names and details.

 

It’s no secret that Harrisburg is a hive of lobbyists, each representing industries and interests that spend millions to persuade state lawmakers to bend laws in their favor.

 

But perhaps what makes the charter-school lobby unique among the pack, says State Rep. Bernie O’Neill, a Republican from Bucks County, is its ability to deploy children to its cause.

 

In 2014, O’Neill experienced that first hand after proposing changes to a funding formula that would affect charter schools. Parents and children stormed his office and barraged him with calls and emails.

 

“They were calling me the anti-Christ of everything,” O’Neill said. “Everybody was coming after me.”

 

In recent years, as charter schools have proliferated – particularly those run by for-profit management companies – so too has their influence on legislators. In few other places has that been more true than Pennsylvania, which is one of only 11 states that has no limits on campaign contributions from PACs or individuals.

 

According to a PennLive analysis of donations on Follow The Money, a campaign donation database, charter school advocates have donated more than $10 million to Pennsylvania politicians over the past nine years.

 

To be sure, charter-school advocacy groups aren’t the only ones spending big to influence education policy in the Keystone State. The Pennsylvania State Education Association, which represents 170,000 teachers and related professionals, has spent about $8.3 million over the same time period according to Follow The Money.

 

But what perhaps makes the influx of money from charter-school groups unique in Pennsylvania is the magnitude of spending by only a handful of donors and, in recent years, some of their high-profile successes in moving and blocking legislation.

 

“They are mobilized,” O’Neill said. “Let me tell you something: they are mobilized.”

 

 

The series is introduced with this summation:

 

“It’s a plan reviled by teachers, loathed by parents, and decried by local politicians, but against huge opposition, York may become the third city in America to privatize the entirety of one of its public school districts.

 

“How did a public school system in the midstate rise to the forefront of a national experiment in education reform? And how did an entire community lose control of its own decision-making ability? The answer to both those questions, education researchers and public watchdogs say, lies in large part on a concerted, multi-million dollar campaign over the past decade by for-profit schools to alter Pennsylvania law.

 

“Those changes, and the industry lobbying that continues behind-the-scenes, have implications for teachers and students across the entire state. It’s a subject we have tackled in a series entitled “The Rise of Charter Schools in Pa.”

Is it time to put the brakes on the number of standardized tests that students must take? In this article, Pennsylvania legislators say that the graduation rate will decline if state testing requirements are left in place.

“By 2017, in order to graduate high school in Pennsylvania, students must pass three state standardized tests: algebra, literature and biology.

Based on most recent student scores — especially in biology — if trends continue, Pennsylvania will soon see far fewer of its students walking down the aisle in cap and gown.

“In order to preempt that reality, state Rep. Mike Tobash (R-Dauphin County) has introduced a bill that would repeal the state-mandated graduation requirement, leaving the decision to local school districts.

“The children of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, they need to learn, they need to be assessed, but when we’ve gone so far that we end up handcuffing our educational system with really an overwhelming amount of standardized assessment,” said Tobash. “We need to stop and put the brakes on here, take a look at it.”

“The bill would also halt the creation and implementation of the seven other subject-specific Keystone exams called for by existing state law.

Tobash, who testified on the matter at a hearing at Philadelphia City Hall in November, is skeptical that the tests are actually judging students on material that’s applicable to modern workforce.”

Moody’s Investors Servicrs paints a gloomy picture of the effects of charter schools on public schools in Pennsylvania.

 

Moody’s writes:

 

“Some fiscally stressed Pennsylvania public school districts have come up with new approaches for combating a primary pressure point: competition from charter schools, Moody’s Investor Service says in a new report. Some of the plans would be transformative, such as a proposal to send all students to other school districts and pay tuition, or to operate a public school district as all-charter.

 

“Some financially stressed districts have offered recovery proposals that fundamentally alter the nature of their public school district operations,” says Moody’s Assistant Vice President — Analyst, Dan Seymour. “The bold plans face near-term execution challenges, but are positive in the long run as some of these districts would continue to deteriorate without significant structural changes. The strong measures are more likely to lead to long-term financial and operational soundness than continuing on the existing course.”

 

While charter advocates assert that competition will cause public schools to improve, this is not what is happening in Pennsylvania. Charters make alluring promises and drain away students and funding. The public schools, with less resources, goes into a tailspin, soon finding that it must cut programs and services, making it less able to compete with charters.

 

The Legislature passed a law in 2012 allowing the Governor to appoint an emergency manager to take over the district, suspending local control. Four districts currently are in receivership: York City, Duquesne, Harrisburg, and Chester-Upland.

 

The Moody’s report sees the state takeover as a plus because it overrides local opposition to strong remedies. One of those strong remedies, as we have seen in York City, is to turn the children and schools over to an out-of-state for-profit charter chain.

 

Do you hear the canary in the mine? The competition with charters, which have an inexperienced and low-wage staff, increases the financial pressure on districts. The more students leave for charters, the less able is the district to compete because of fixed costs and experienced teachers who are paid as professionals, not temps. The business answer: shut down the district, turn all the schools into charters, or send the students to other districts.

 

The end result is the same: the replacement of community public schools by privately managed charters staffed by temps. If the chain can’t make a profit, it will close its doors and leave. What happens then?

 

Is this a way to “improve” education? Not for students. Not for communities.

The Chester-Upland school district teeters once again towards bankruptcy. Half of of its students are enrolled in charter schools, and the public school district is in deep deficit. The Corbett administration refused to supply the funding needed to survive, abandoning the state’s constitutional obligation to maintain public schools. Former Governor Corbett, a proponent of privatization, appointed an emergency manager who was known as a supporter of charters and vouchers. He recommended merging the administration of public schools and charters, but the charters declined to join.

 

“The Chester-Upland School District faces a $20 million structural deficit, which Watkins attributes to costs incurred by student exodus to charter schools and the state government’s decision in 2011 to eliminate money in the budget to help districts cover the cost of departure.

 

“Almost half of the more than 7,000 students in the area attend charter schools.

 

“Watkins has floated several unorthodox fixes for the chronically underperforming and overextended school district, including talk of a partnership and an flux of more than $1 billion from a Chinese investor…

 

“Watkins unpacked his plan to partner with the charters -– which included recategorizing charter students as Chester-Upland School District students — at a hearing in December.

 

“By recategorizing charter students and making them Chester Upland students, we wouldn’t have been obligated to pay their tuition costs,” said Watkins. He said the district currently pays $9,000 to $35,000 in tuition per student, in addition to absorbing departure costs.”

 

The biggest charter in the district is the Chester Community Charter School, which is owned by a wealthy lawyer who was one of Corbett’s major campaign contributors and a member of his education transition team. When the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote about him, he sued the newspaper (he lost in the appellate court). His readiness to sue stills critics; he even threatened to sue a website run by an 18-year-old that featured his fabulous homes. His for-profit company has made tens of millions by supplying goods and services to his nonprofit charter school.

 

The charter owner recently built a $28 million mansion in Palm Beach. That’s American education, folks.

 

NOTE: I WAS INFORMED THAT THE CHESTER-UPLAND SCHOOLS ARE IN DELAWARE COUNTY, NOT CHESTER COUNTY AND I CHANGED THE HEADLINE ACCORDINGLY. FORGIVE THIS TEXAN LIVING IN NEW YORK FOR HER GEOGRAPHICAL IGNORANCE OF COUNTIES IN PENNSYLVANIA.

Pennsylvania Governor-Elect Tom Wolf has selected Lancaster Superintendent Pedro Rivera as the next state commissioner of education. Rivera is a veteran educator who previously worked in the Philadelphia public schools.

“Mr. Rivera has been superintendent of the School District of Lancaster since 2008.

“In September, Mr. Rivera was honored at the White House as one of 10 Hispanic leaders in education.

“A Philadelphia native, Mr. Rivera worked for 13 years in the Philadelphia public schools, as a principal, assistant principal, classroom teacher and human resources director.”

High school students in York City, Pennsylvania, have been handing out fliers to warn parents and the community against the state’s plan to hand their district public schools over to a for-profit charter chain.

On Wednesday, school board members, parents, students, and school employees will meet to oppose the charter takeover.

“The 4:30 p.m. rally at Bethlehem Baptist Church, 474 S. Pershing Ave., will proceed a 6:30 p.m. board meeting Wednesday at the district administration building, 31 N. Pershing Ave.

“Margie Orr, president of the school board, and other members of the board will be there “to show that the York community is united against a charter takeover of its neighborhood schools,” according to a news release from the Pennsylvania State Education Association.

“A state-appointed official has advocated a full conversion of district schools to charter schools operated by a for-profit company.”

The minority leader of the syate Senate Education Committee is proposing legislation to stop using a standardized test as a graduation test. Standardized tests are designed to produce a bell curve. A set proportion of students will fail, by design.

“WEST CHESTER (January 16) – State Senator Andy Dinniman said the lack of resources in Pennsylvania’s financially distressed public schools is so stark that the use of the Keystone Exams as graduate requirements must be stopped before they exacerbate an already dire situation. “It’s clear to me that there are two systems of public education in Pennsylvania: separate and unequal,” said Dinniman, who serves as minority chair of the Senate Education Committee. “Until we resolve that discrepancy, how can we, in good conscience, stamp ‘failure’ on the backs of kids who lack the teachers, resources and classes to pass such standardized tests? To continue down this path without addressing such basic issues is beyond the pale. It’s downright shameful.” Dinniman announced that he will introduce legislation to end passage of the Keystone Exams as high school graduation requirements because they will only widen the growing gap between financially distressed and more affluent high schools.”

In December, the York (Pennsylvania) Dispatch tried to meet with representatives from Charter Schools USA, the Florida for-profit chain that has been selected by the district’s receiver to take control of the city’s financially strapped public schools. The company canceled the meeting. The newspaper submitted 36 questions. The company did not respond to 12 of them.

“Those questions include the following: Will Charter Schools USA allow employees to unionize? How much does the average teacher make at a school operated by Charter Schools USA? What is CEO Jonathan Hage’s annual salary? How much profit does Charter Schools USA expect to make on the York City contract?

“The Dispatch recently reiterated those questions to the company.

“Due to the current status of contract negotiations, Charter Schools USA will not be visiting our market for one-on-one media interviews until more information is known regarding the future of a potential contract in York,” Kernan wrote in response. “Should the situation change indicating potential movement on the contract, Charter Schools USA will welcome face-to-face interviews regarding the students of the York City School District. Charter Schools USA continues to be focused on providing educational opportunities for students.”

Kernan said Charter Schools USA would also decline phone or email interview requests.”

Meanwhile CSUSA has hired a prominent lobbying firm to represent its interests in Harrisburg.

“Malady & Wooten lists a diversity of clients on its website — from major retailers like Walmart, Target and Rite Aid to smaller interests like the Pennsylvania Golf Course Owners Association and several schools for deaf and blind children.”

“Calls to Malady & Wooten were not returned.”

Two questions occur:

First, how can any corporation make a profit managing a district with a tax base too small to support its schools?

Second, doesn’t the state have a constitutional obligation to provide public education to all children? If the district can’t afford to maintain its schools, doesn’t the state have an obligation to subsidize its schools rather than giving them away to a company whose first responsibility is to make a profit?

The public schools of York City, Pennsylvania, are on a precipice. They have a deficit. The state, contrary to its constitutional obligation, refuses to help. The district is in receivership. A judge approved the receiver’s plan to hand the schools over to a Florida-based for-profit corporation. How the corporation can make a profit from a district in financial distress is not clear. The district school board wants to appeal. The judge will decide in the next week whether he will permit an appeal from his ruling.

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Judge: Ruling on York City School District’s receivership appeal to come next week

York Dispatch by MOLLIE DURKIN 505-5432/@YDHealth 01/06/2015 01:58:20 PM EST

A court ruling on the York City School District’s appeal of receivership will have to wait until next week. York County President Judge Stephen P. Linebaugh held a hearing about the appeal on Tuesday, a week and a half after granting the state Department of Education’s petition to appoint David Meckley as the school district’s receiver. Meckley has served as the district’s chief recovery officer for about two years. For several months, he’s advocated for a full conversion of the district’s eight schools to operation by Charter Schools USA, a for-profit charter company.

The appeal: Marc Tarlow, an attorney representing the district, filed an appeal to Linebaugh’s decision and is pushing for a stay that would prevent Meckley from officially becoming the receiver until the appeals process is finished. But Clyde Vedder, attorney for the state Department of Education, argued that the district has no authority to appeal and that only the directors of the school board may file appeals. “Which, as we pointed out in our motion, they have not done,” he said. Linebaugh said he is “somewhat troubled” by the assertion that an entity affected by a decision has no right to appeal.

http://www.yorkdispatch.com/breaking/ci_27264505/judge-ruling-york-city-school-districts-receivership-appeal

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Judge considers appeal questions in York City receiver case

State wants court to strike appeal from York City School District

By Angie Mason amason@ydr.com @angiemason1 on Twitter 01/06/2015 06:05:01 PM EST

David Meckley could know as early as next week whether a judge will clear the way for him to move forward with the York City School District’s recovery plan, or whether appeals filed over his appointment as receiver will keep district control in limbo. On Tuesday, York County Judge Stephen Linebaugh heard arguments on the state education department’s motions to strike the school district’s appeal in the case and remove an automatic stay of receivership triggered by that appeal. Linebaugh gave the attorneys until Friday to file any supplemental documents and said he could rule early next week, unless he determines there’s need for a hearing.

Clyde Vedder, attorney for the state, argued Tuesday there’s a “fundamental distinction” between the school district and the school board. The appeal was “allegedly” filed by the district, he said, but the district was placed under Meckley’s control when he was named receiver Dec. 26. The board itself, Vedder argued, has not filed an appeal.

http://www.ydr.com/ci_27268935/judge-considers-appeal-questions-york-city-receiver-case?source=rss

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Politics is as politics does in York school debate (letter)

York Daily Record Letter by Jeff Kirkland UPDATED: 01/06/2015 02:34:03 PM EST

Jeff Kirkland is a former York City School Board President.

In response to the letter by state Reps. Seth Grove and Stand Saylor, and state Sen. Scott Wagner:

When it comes to assessing what is good for the York City School District, these guys are as delusional as they were when they participated in the decimation of the district. It is obvious this is a political hack piece as these arrogant “do-gooders” attempt to support their crony, Tom Corbett, and cover their own tracks in undermining urban education across the state.

When it comes to concern about the education of the kids of York, these charlatans have proven over the years they have no real interest in the education of city youth.

Both Saylor and Grove supported the destabilization of the city district by pushing the failed Edison Charter school experiment. The Edison group, like Charter Schools USA, made many similar empty promises of savings, improved academics and even free computers for families who fell for their false promises. When they could not squeeze enough profits out of this community to satisfy their greed, Edison left town in a hurry, leaving a disrupted and unstable district in its lurch. Where is the accountable Mr. Grove and Mr. Saylor? Where were you as your experiment with our children failed?

http://www.ydr.com/letters/ci_27266986/politics-is-politics-does-york-school-debate-letter

These daily emails are archived and searchable at

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Sorry I missed this great post when it came out in November. Jersey Jazzman, one of the nation’s best education bloggers, foretells the handover of the York City public schools to a for-profit charter chain and excoriates the state officials who are permitting this travesty to happen.

 

He digs into the stats on York City to show that it is performing about where you would expect given the socioeconomic disadvantage of its students. York City, he says, needs help, more resources, not a for-profit charter chain to siphon money out of its budget.

 

He writes:

 

Let’s recap:

Tom Corbett abdicated his responsibilities to the children of York and defunded their schools.
He sent in his personal hack to force the district to turn those schools over to a private, for-profit corporation through a shell non-profit.
The hack — as if he were a made man — told the district if they didn’t take his offer, he’d take over.
No one knows how much money the charter company is going to make on this deal.
Trust me, folks, we’re just getting started…

 

Meckley believes this plan is warranted because York’s schools aren’t performing up to snuff. But the truth is that they are exactly where we’d expect them to be, given the demographics of the city.

 

Do you want to see a photo of Jon Hage’s gorgeous yacht? Look here. He is the CEO of Charter Schools USA. The yacht was up for sale recently. He lives well. His business is very profitable with taxpayer dollars.

 

Jersey Jazzman asks:

 

And what kind of performance have the good people of Florida received for all of that money?

 
The chain was considered high-performing until this year. And on Tuesday the Orange School Board voted 7-0 to deny its applications for three new campuses.

 
Because charters are publicly funded per pupil, Charter Schools USA would receive about $27 million a year to run the three schools at capacity if approved.

 
“Their performance in Orange County is abysmally poor,” board Chairman Bill Sublette said of the Renaissance schools. “They’re underperforming the schools in the area that they’re drawing from. How can we look taxpayers in the eye and approve them?”
But Jonathan Hage, president and CEO of Charter Schools USA, said he is proud of all of the company’s schools, including Chickasaw.

 
“We do an excellent job over time, even with the lowest-performing students,” he said. “We knew we wouldn’t be able to turn those scores around in a year.” [emphasis mine]

 
JJ: I guess David Meckley knows better than the entire Orange School Board. Maybe CSUSA’s history in Indiana convinced him:

 
“The four takeover schools in Indianapolis lost huge numbers of students — between 35 and 60 percent at each school — between the start of classes in 2011 and when the takeover operators took over in 2012. Schools are mostly funded on the basis of their enrollment, so the departures came at a steep cost for the private operators.
On top of that, the takeover schools saw their share of a pot of federal funds for low-performing schools that is controlled by the state shrink as more state schools became eligible to claim that money. Tindley lost $212,000, and Charter Schools USA’s three schools lost more than $601,110 because of across-the-board reductions.
Together, the cuts have left takeover operators with much higher costs than they anticipated.
Sherry Hage, CSUSA’s chief academic officer, says the operator is planning to stick with its schools despite the costs. But for some, the price tag is proving too high. Earlier this month, Tindley shocked state education officials by threatening to pull out of Arlington shortly after the start of the school year unless the nonprofit could get $2.4 million in additional aid.”

 
– See more at: http://jerseyjazzman.blogspot.com/2014/11/york-pa-and-death-of-public-education.html#sthash.wCR7cUKg.dpuf

 

 

 

 

 

 

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