Archives for category: Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania is home to some of the nation’s most unscrupulous charter operators, some of whom are under criminal investigation or on trial for fraud and misappropriation of public funds. But say this for some of the sleaziest: they give generously to political campaigns. That is why the Legislature is considering SB 1085, which would allow new charters to open without local approval.

If you want to protect public schools in Pennsylvania from reckless privatization, if you want to maintain local control, take action now to oppose SB 1085.

Here is advice from the pro-public education Keystone State Education Coalition:

SB1085 ALERT:

Charter School Reform bill is on the PA Senate calendar for December 3rd.

Call your state senator; urge them to vote no on SB1085 which would remove local control over tax dollars.

Use this link to find contact information for your state senator:

http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/home/member_information/contact.cfm?body=S

1. If you are concerned about SB1085 giving unelected charter operators the power to spend tax dollars without any local oversight or control, please call your state senator’s office and let them know ASAP.

Urge them to maintain local control over tax dollars by locally elected, locally accountable school boards; urge them to vote no on SB1085.

SB1085 would allow colleges and universities to authorize new charter schools without local approval.
SB1085 would eliminate enrollment caps on charter schools. This will allow for the unfettered expansion of charter schools in PA.
SB1085 would increase the initial term of a charter from 3 years to 5 years, and allow a charter school to be granted a 10 year renewal
SB1085 would allow two or more charters to consolidate and transfer oversight to the PA Department of Education; local taxpayers would still pay the tuition
SB1085 would remove the provision that requires charter applications to be evaluated based on the extent to which the school may serve as a model for other public schools.
2. Please forward this alert to any interested public education stakeholders.

3. If you have a few minutes more to spare, please consider calling any or all of these Senate officers:

Majority Leader Senator Dominic Pileggi
(717) 787-4712 FAX: (717) 783-7490

dpileggi@pasen.gov

Majority Whip Senator Patrick Browne
(717) 787-1349 FAX: (717) 772-3458

pbrowne@pasen.gov

Majority Caucus Chair Senator Michael Waugh
(717) 787-3817 FAX: (717) 783-1900

mwaugh@pasen.gov

Majority Caucus Secretary Senator Robert Robbins
(717) 787-1322 FAX: (717) 772-0577

rrobbins@pasen.gov

Majority Appropriations Chair Senator Jake Corman
(717) 787-1377 FAX: (717) 772-3146

jcorman@pasen.gov

Majority Caucus Administrator Senator John Gordner
(717) 787-8928 FAX: (717) 787-9715

jgordner@pasen.gov

Majority Policy Committee Chair Senator Edwin Erickson
(717) 787-1350 FAX: (717) 787-0196

eerickson@pasen.gov

You can also use this Education Voters PA link to send an email to your state senator opposing SB1085:

http://salsa.wiredforchange.com/o/6041/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=8833

Adam Schott and James Jack write here about the poor performance of cyber charters in Pennsylvania.

You might even say the abysmal performance of cyber charters.

Pennsylvania has 16, more of them than any state in the nation, and six more want to open. No wonder they want to open. It is a lucrative business.

They write:

If it was viewed as a single school district, Pennsylvania’s expansive cyber charter sector would represent Pennsylvania’s second-largest district, with more than 35,000 students attending 16 schools statewide. Cyber charters received approximately $366 million in taxpayer funds in 2012-13—drawing payments from 498 of the state’s 500 school districts.

Their performance is awful:

In 2011-2012, just one of the state’s then 12 cyber charter schools met state academic thresholds for adequate yearly progress, while eight schools landed in one of several stages of “corrective action”—the lowest level of academic performance.

A 2011 report by Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes that examined Pennsylvania charter schools found that “performance at cyber charter schools was substantially lower than the performance at brick-and-mortar charters.”

Last week, Research for Action and our colleagues at the Education Law Center weighed new data: School Performance Profile scores, which are at the heart of the state’s new accountability plan under its No Child Left Behind waiver. We examined scores for the 11 cyber charter schools for which complete data were available—together, these schools educate nearly 17,000 students, or roughly half of the statewide cyber charter enrollment.

All 11 cybers scored among the lowest schools in the state. Not one of these cyber schools met or exceeded the average performance of Pennsylvania’s public and charter schools.

In fact, according to the state’s data, the average performance of cyber charters was more than 33 points behind that of traditional public schools, and nearly 23 points behind brick-and-mortar charter schools. Put another way, cyber charters—despite recent expansion—represent less than one half of one percent of the state’s schools, yet account for more than one-third of the state’s lowest-scoring based on that data.

Pennsylvania’s cyber charter schools enroll a student population that broadly reflects the state as a whole in terms of special education identification rates, English language learner status, and other characteristics. Yet the sector’s performance is well below that of the overwhelming majority of public schools, both traditional and brick-and-mortar charter schools.

Pennsylvania policymakers have an obligation to make decisions informed by all available evidence. We urge them to carefully consider the performance data on cyber charters as they consider further expansion of this sector.

Adam Schott is Director of Policy Research at Research for Action and a former Executive Director of the State Board of Education. James Jack is a Senior Research Associate at RFA.

Charter school founder June Brown is on trial in Philadelphia for collecting multiple salaries from the charter schools and management firms she opened.

Brown is accused of defrauding the four charter schools she founded of $6.7 million and then conspiring with two former administrators to obstruct justice by orchestrating a cover-up.

Meanwhile, business leaders in Philadelphia hope to open more charter schools in that beleaguered city, where the public schools have been decimated by budget cuts and layoffs.

A high school student wrote this letter to Mark NAISON of the BATS, who sent it to me:

Mr Naison:

Hello, my name is Madeline Clapier. I am a senior at Constitution High School which is a school in Philadelphia that focuses on law and history. Currently, we as a school are facing massive budget cuts and our student government is attempting to rally against the cuts. We have put together seven points that we believe are necessary to the “efficient education” due to us by the state constitution. I’m reaching out to you because you have been apart of working for the restoration of schools. I would like to know how to effectively rally for the education we believe is necessary for the future of our city. So, if you have any tips on how we should go forward with our mission that would be greatly appreciated.

Our seven expectations for our city’s schools are attached.

Thank you,
Madeline Clapier

Expectations for Philadelphia Public Schools

“The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of the Commonwealth.” -PA Constitution

A counselor should be a reality for all Philadelphia School District students. The counselors should be around for all school days, not just once or twice a month. They are necessary for not only emotional support, but a plethora of other things including (but not limited to) college help, peer mediation, working papers, SAT/ACT waivers, and college recommendations.

We should not be dealing with class sizes where students have to share desks or bring in chairs. It should not be a daily dilemma to find a seat in any classroom. Each and every classroom should be able to fit the expected amount of students and that number should not exceed 33 students.

If a school is a college prep school then students should be able to choose SAT prep classes or other college prep classes to help prepare the student body for their future. Likewise if the school is advertised as a science, history, or art school they should be able to afford their equipment.

After school activities are something that each college looks for on any application. They teach students to critically think, work together and much more.

There is something sickening about the fact that there is not a nurse in every school. It is very clear that students are only expected to get sick on certain days. What about the other days of the week?

Electives are an essential piece of every high school experience. Students should be given the opportunity to pick and choose some things that interest them. This way students have the classes like Spanish and Art History that colleges expect them to have learned.

Most of all we believe the state of Pennsylvania and the School District of Philadelphia need to follow their social responsibility of creating a proper learning environment for Philadelphia students.

This letter comes in response to a post by TeacherBiz, aka
Ani McHugh.

Dr. Ravitch, I worked for 29 years for NJEA and six for PSEA. I worked with local teacher associations in some
of the poorest cities in both those states (NJ and PA), including
Chester-Upland.

What is happening in CU is nothing short of a criminal assault on the poorest of the poor, led by politicians who have allowed the state to have a funding formula which penalizes
poor districts and then criticizes them for “failing.”

Corbett, a
former prosecutor, should himself be prosecuted for failing to
enforce the state constitution, which calls for a “thorough and
efficient” system of public schools. By contrast, New Jersey’s
Supreme Court forced the cowards in the legislature to fund poor
districts at the same level as the wealthy districts, with some
impressive results.

I love your work. And oh,
by the way, Ani McHugh is my daughter, of whom I am inordinately
proud.
Robert P. Broderick
Beverly, NJ

Ani McHugh, who blogs as TeacherBiz, wrote about the book after she heard me speak in Philadelphia on September 16. She was impressed that despite my age, I still spoke with “the energy and passion of a much younger woman.” She doesn’t realize that 75 is the new 55.

She brings to her review the unique perspective of Philadelphia, a city under siege, trying to maintain a semblance of education despite massive budget cuts by the state, which takes no responsibility despite the clear language of the state constitution.

Philadelphia and Pennsylvania are home to many of the misdeeds described in the book. The collapse of public education in Chester-Upland, where the governor’s biggest campaign contributor opened a thriving charter. The proliferation of virtual charters. The failure of a privatization under Paul Vallas.

Philadelphia is in extremis. The state’s willingness to preserve free public education in that city will be a test of our society a test of our commitment to equality of educational opportunity.

 

As it happened, Michelle Rhee and I nearly crossed paths in
Philadelphia. This
article describes our contrasting visions
for the public
schools of Philadelphia. She spoke on September 16, in a panel that
included George Parker, the former head of the Washington Teachers
Union, who now works for Rhee, and Steve Perry, ex-CNN commentator.

Governor Tom Corbett cut $1 billion from the schools in 2011, while cutting corporate taxes. He later added back a small part of the cut, but he left many districts in terrible fiscal trouble.

Philadelphia public schools have a deficit of $300 million, and
thousands of staff have been laid off, including teachers, guidance
counselors, social workers, librarians, and many others. Bear in mind that the Philadelphia public schools have been under state control for more than a decade. During that time, Superintendent Paul Vallas launched the nation’s most sweeping privatization experiment, which failed, according to independent evaluations.

According to this article (and in an op-ed published in the Philadelphia
Inquirer), Rhee saw the fiscal crisis as an opportunity to
introduce performance pay. How that would close the budget deficit
was unclear.

In my presentation at the Philadelphia Free Library, I read the language of the state
constitution, which unequivocally assigns responsibility to the
state of Pennsylvania to support a thorough and efficient education
for every child. That is not the case today. Governor Tom Corbett
expects the state-controlled School Reform Commission to squeeze
savings out of the teachers’ contracts, cutting salaries, benefits,
and laying off more teachers. That is not the way to go.

Someday the children of Philadelphia will be the voters of Pennsylvania or
some other state. They must be educated to choose their leaders
wisely. Someday these children may sit on a jury where YOU will be
judged. Just hope that they have the wisdom, knowledge, and
compassion to judge you fairly. My view: The children of
Philadelphia are as worthy of a good education as the children in
the nearby suburbs. They need small classes, experienced teachers,
arts programs, well-maintained facilities, guidance counselors,
libraries staffed by librarians, up-to-date technology. They need
what the parents in the suburbans want for their children. And they
deserve nothing less.

Jessie Ramey, who writes Yinzercation, and Kipp Dawson, a union activist and teacher in the Pittsburgh public schools, invited me to come to their city. I had my first event there, and it was sensational! I will let Jessie describe it.

Let me add that I especially wanted to meet Kipp, because I learned that she worked as a coal miner for more than a decade. I imagined a burly woman, but she turned out to be tiny, but with a steely determination. The kind that enables a woman who is 5’1″ to carry a 50-pound pack on her back and persist, the kind that will fight for kids today.

 

I had a wonderful inaugural event in my book tour in Pittsburgh. It was organized by parent activist Jessie Ramey, who writes the blog Yinzercation, and union activist Kipp Dawson. It was co-sponsored by seven local universities, the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, and a galaxy of educational justice groups, including GPS (Great Pittsburgh Schools).

The audience included many elected officials, including the newly elected mayor, school board members, and Superintendent Linda Lane.

The event began with a long and fabulous set played on African drums by about 20 students, who seemed to range in age from 9-13 or so. They were great!

I spoke, then was followed by the Westinghouse high school marching band. They arrived with great vivacity, but their story was heartbreaking. This school, which produced a number of legendary jazz greats, has been decimated by budget cuts. The school’s jazz program was shut down years ago. Now the marching band has no instruments, and their uniforms are hand-md-downs. A speaker, Reverend Thornton, pleaded with the crowd, to make donations to help the band that has neither instruments nor uniforms nor a stable band director.

Anyone want to see the “crisis in American education”? Come see how the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is denying a thorough and efficient education to the children of Pittsburgh. Especially the children of color.

Nicholas Trombetta, founder of the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School, has been indicted by federal authorities on 11 fraud and tax charges.

Trombetta’s school is the largest cyber charter in the state and possibly the nation, with 10,000 students and annual revenues in excess of $100 million.

Prosecutors said that Trombetta had stolen nearly $1 million. He “is accused of creating entity after entity, ultimately controlling what prosecutors said was an intricate web of interlocking businesses whose purpose was to enrich himself, his sister and various associates.”

Trombetta’s attorney said he will plead not guilty.

“The indictment alleges that the former wrestling coach and school superintendent formed businesses that billed for doing no work; masked his control of a corporation by naming straw owners; hid income from the IRS; took $550,000 in kickbacks on a laptop computer contract with Virginia-based NCS Technologies Inc.; and even “caused” employees to make $40,000 in individual payments to his favored political candidates before reimbursing them through one of his companies.

Although no such charges have been filed, there is a federal statute that prohibits making campaign contributions in the name of another person, or what are referred to as “conduit political contributions.”

Prosecutors insisted they were not making any judgments about cyber charters, just about Mr. Trombetta’s financial dealings.

As we have learned from studies like the one conducted by CREDO and another by NEPC, cyber charters provide an inferior quality of education–high attrition rates, low graduation rates, low test scores.

But the money is really good for those who run the schools, so long as they don’t break the law.

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