Archives for category: Pennsylvania

Last Friday, a judge cleared the way to put the York City schools into receivership, meaning under state control. The Pennsylvania Department of Education previously announced its intention to hand over the entire school district to the for-profit charter chain Charter Schools of America.

Be it noted that today’s education “reformers” don’t much care for democracy. They would rather turn public schools over to a for-profit corporation that siphons off 20% in management fees and pays itself outlandish rental fees rather than trust parents and local citizens to do what’s best for their children.

Choice? There will be no “choice” for the families of York City. Their children will have to attend a charter school whose headquarters are in Florida. Yes, it is the death of local control and democracy in York City.

The news story says:

“State officials have said they would, if approved for a receivership, bring in Charter Schools USA to operate the district.

“So this means York likely will be the first city in the Commonwealth – and only one in the nation – where public education is provided exclusively by a private company.

The Pennsylvania State Education Association plans to appeal, according to a statement released by the statewide teachers union immediately after the ruling Friday morning.

“York’s citizens don’t want this, the elected school board doesn’t want this, and parents and educators don’t want this,” said PSEA President Michael Crossey.

“Citing the district’s financial problems, PDE declared York schools in recovery status and appointed David Meckley chief recovery officer, or CRO, in late 2012.

“State law triggers a receivership petition if officials in a recovery school district act against the wishes of the CRO or in violation of their approved recovery plan, which is supposed to be collaboratively developed.

“In this case, one action was the board’s refusal to vote on a charter school operator contract until the company provided more information.

“The other was its vote on a teachers and staff union contract that didn’t cut as much as set out in the recovery plan.”

This is what we would expect from the outgoing Corbett administration, which actively promoted privatization.

What will the new Tom Wolf administration do?

Here are some thoughts from Mark Miller, a local school board member in Pennsylvania and an officer of the Pennsylvania School Boards Assiciation:

“PSBA was disqualified as a party of interest in the case despite the fact we are a state chartered agency with a membership of 4,500 elected officials sworn to uphold the constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania which guarantees a free and appropriate public education to all children. On that count alone, how can the court force any child to attend a charter school?

“Linebaugh also disqualified NAACP, PASA and twenty-two parents of children with special needs who combined their money to retain special education counsel. Commonwealth Court upheld the ruling on NAACP, PSBA, PASA and parents did not appeal as we were saving our war chest for this new fight.

“There was never any question in my mind that Linebaugh was going to hand the district over to privateers. Governor Elect Wolf is a resident of York County and a political ally of the Receiver (David Meckley). While he did ask for the courts to leave this matter wait until his term of office begins, he has been absolutely silent on his position in this matter.

“Wolf’s wife Frances resigned from the Board of York Academy Charter School two months before he declared for office. some observers think that CSUSA will sub-contract to York Academy and CSMI (Charter School Management Inc is Vahan Gureghian’s company) as CSUSA does not have the resources at hand to run these schools.

“York Academy and CSMI have been silent and CSUSA non committal (Although Vahan Guerghian is building a $28MM mansion within a 45 minute drive to CSUSA headquarters in Florida.

“Obviously, we are going to file an appeal of the ruling handed down today.”

The state of Pennsylvania is being sued by the following petitioners:


The petitioners are represented by the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia and the Education Law Center of Pennsylvania.

Here is the summary of their challenge to the state:


Petitioners, by and through their counsel, for their Petition for Review in the Nature of an Action for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief against Respondents, state and allege as follows:


The good Education of Youth has been esteemed by Wise men in all Ages, as the surest foundation of the happiness both of private Families and of Common-wealths. Almost all Governments have therefore made it a principal Object of their Attention, to establish and endow with proper Revenues, such Seminaries of Learning, as might supply the succeeding Age with Men qualified to serve the publick with Honour to themselves, and to their Country.1

1. From the earliest days of the Commonwealth, Pennsylvania has recognized a societal interest in public education—a charge that Respondents here are sworn to carry out. Under the Pennsylvania Constitution, Respondents have an obligation to support a thorough and efficient public school system that provides all children an equal opportunity to receive an adequate education. Through legislation and regulation, Respondents have established state academic standards that define precisely what an adequate education entails. But rather than equip children to meet those standards and participate meaningfully in the economic, civic, and social life of their communities, Respondents have adopted an irrational and inequitable school financing arrangement that drastically underfunds school districts across the Commonwealth and discriminates against children on the basis of the taxable property and household incomes in their districts.
In adopting this arrangement, Respondents have violated Article III, Section 14, of the Pennsylvania Constitution (the “Education Clause”), which requires the General Assembly to “provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of the Commonwealth.” They have also violated Article III, Section 32 (the “Equal Protection Clause”), which requires Respondents to finance the Commonwealth’s public education system in a manner that does not irrationally discriminate against a class of children.

2. The General Assembly’s delegation of much of these duties to local school districts cannot elide its ultimate responsibility under the Education Clause and the Equal Protection Clause. Through this lawsuit, Petitioners seek to hold the General Assembly responsible for and accountable to its constitutional mandate.

3. Respondents are well aware that the current school financing arrangement does not satisfy that mandate. In 2006, recognizing its constitutional duty to ensure adequate school funding, the General Assembly passed Act 114, which directed the State Board of Education to conduct a comprehensive statewide “costing-out” study to determine the “basic cost per pupil to provide an education that will permit a student to meet the State’s academic standards and assessments.” Upon the study’s completion in 2007, Respondents learned that 95% of the Commonwealth’s school districts required additional funding, a shortfall that totaled $4.4 billion.
In response, the General Assembly approved a bill in 2008 that established funding targets for each school district and a formula for distributing education funds in a manner that would help ensure that all students could meet state academic standards. Even with a financial crisis sweeping the nation, Respondents were able to rely on that funding formula to begin to more equitably distribute state funds and federal stimulus money, which collectively increased funding for school districts by more than $800 million over three years. Beginning in 2011, however, Respondents abandoned the funding formula, slashed funding to districts by more than $860 million, and passed legislation to severely restrict local communities from increasing local funding. Meanwhile, the cost of meeting state academic standards continued to rise, opening a perilous and widening gap between the actual resources provided to school districts and the resources necessary to provide children in Pennsylvania an adequate education.

4. These funding cuts have had a devastating effect on students, school districts (especially less affluent school districts), teachers, and the future of the Commonwealth. The latest figures from the 2012–13 school year indicate that more than 300,000 of the approximately 875,000 students tested, including the children of the individual Petitioners in this action, are receiving an inadequate education—by Respondents’ own definition—and are unable to meet state academic standards. Specifically, these students are unable to achieve proficiency on the Pennsylvania System of Standardized Assessment (“PSSA”) exams, which the General Assembly modified in 1999 to track state academic standards and measure student performance in reading, writing, math, and science.

5. Because of insufficient funding, Petitioner school districts are unable to provide students with the basic elements of an adequate education, such as appropriate class sizes, sufficient experienced and effective teachers, up-to-date books and technology, adequate course offerings, sufficient administrative staff, academic remediation, counseling and behavioral health services, and suitable facilities necessary to prepare students to meet state proficiency standards. In fact, the superintendent of the state’s largest school district has stated publicly that school staffing levels in 2013-14 were insufficient to provide students an adequate education.

6. Nor do Petitioner school districts have adequate resources to prepare students to pass the Keystone Exams, which measure student performance in math, science, and English. Achieving proficiency or higher on the Keystone Exams (or an equivalent project-based assessment) is a graduation requirement for all Pennsylvania students in the class of 2017 and beyond. Yet over 50% of students in the Commonwealth are currently unable to pass the Keystone Exams. Many of those students will leave high school without a diploma, hindering their ability to enter the workforce or “serve the needs of the Commonwealth.” The existing system of public education is therefore neither thorough nor efficient, as measured by the Commonwealth’s own academic standards and costing-out study.

7. What is worse, the very low levels of state funding and unusually high dependence on local taxes under the current financing arrangement have created gross funding disparities among school districts—an asymmetry that disproportionately harms children residing in districts with low property values and incomes. In fiscal year 2011, local sources provided 60% of the money that funded public education, while state appropriations accounted for only 34%. That year, only three states contributed a smaller percentage of the cost of public education than Pennsylvania.

8. As a consequence, total education expenditures per student now range from as little as $9,800 per student in school districts with low property values and incomes to more than $28,400 per student in districts with high property values and incomes, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s 2012–13 data.2 This unconscionable and irrational funding disparity violates the Equal Protection Clause because it turns the caliber of public education into an accident of geography: Children in property- and income-poor districts are denied the opportunity to receive even an adequate education, while their peers in property- and income-rich districts enjoy a high-quality education.

This funding disparity is not justified by any difference in student needs. To the contrary, those students with the highest needs (e.g., English-language learners, students living in poverty) receive the fewest resources to prepare them to succeed. Nor is it justified by a desire to maintain local control over education. Any such “control” is illusory under the current financing arrangement because districts with low property values do not actually control the amount of resources at their disposal or the standards to which their students are held. In fact, many low-wealth districts have higher tax rates than property-rich school districts. In other words, it is not tax effort that explains the difference in funding. Rather, these underfunded districts are in areas so poor that, despite their high tax rates, they simply cannot raise enough money to improve education without more assistance from the state.

10. Petitioner Panther Valley School District (“Panther Valley”), a property-poor district, is a prime example of the funding disparity. In 2012– 13, Panther Valley’s equalized millage rate of 27.8—the 27th highest of the Commonwealth’s 501 school districts—raised revenue of approximately $5,646 locally per student. Property-rich Lower Merion School District (“Lower Merion”), on the other hand, raised revenue of approximately $23,709 locally per student—four times more than Panther Valley—with an equalized millage rate of just 14.7, almost half of Panther Valley’s.

11. Although the state has made some effort to close that gap, contributing twice as much per student to Panther Valley as it did to Lower Merion, that still left Panther Valley with less than half the combined state and local funding of Lower Merion: $12,022 per student versus $26,700. Respondents cannot reasonably claim that $12,022 is adequate to educate a Panther Valley student—not when the State Board of Education’s own costing-out study showed that Panther valley needed $13,427 per student based on 2005–06 costs. Over the past nine years, of course, those costs have only grown.

12. Given Respondents’ failure to address the funding crisis—and the ongoing harm their failure has inflicted on children throughout the Commonwealth—Petitioners ask this Court to declare the existing school financing arrangement unconstitutional and find that it violates both the Education Clause and the Equal Protection Clause. An objective framework for such an inquiry already exists. The state academic standards and student performance measures developed by Respondents beginning in 1999, as well as the costing-out study they commissioned, provide judicially manageable standards by which the Court can assess whether the General Assembly has maintained and supported “a thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of the Commonwealth,” as required by the Pennsylvania Constitution.

13. Petitioners also seek an injunction compelling Respondents, after being given sufficient time to design, enact, and implement a school financing arrangement consistent with the Constitution, to halt any funding arrangement that (i) does not provide necessary, sufficient, and appropriate funding that ensures all students have an opportunity to obtain an adequate education and meet state academic standards, and (ii) irrationally discriminates against children who live in school districts with low property values and incomes.

1 Benjamin Franklin, Proposal Relating to the Education of Youth in Pennsylvania (1749), available at

2 Unless otherwise noted, throughout this Complaint, “per student” is based upon Average Daily Membership (“ADM”) as reported by the Pennsylvania Department of Education. ADM refers to “all resident pupils of the school district for whom the school district is financially responsible.” It includes students in charter schools. See

I read a story about a charter school in Germantown, Pennsylvania. It is called Imhotep Charter School. It has a new $10 million facility. I can’t figure out who is in charge and where the money goes. Isn’t there an auditor? Stories like this are happening with increasing frequency as charters multiply and accountability shrinks.


There seems to be a tug of war between the school and the nonprofit to which it is connected about who owns the building. Meanwhile the founder of the school has been fired by a board, whose chairperson is the founder’s daughter.


I bring this to your attention because I can’t understand what is happening. I know that this school is publicly-funded but it seems to be in more than the usual turmoil, not what you are likely to find in your neighborhood public school.


“Sankofa Network Inc., a related nonprofit that owns Imhotep’s campus, filed a Common Pleas Court lawsuit last week alleging the charter owes $1.2 million in rent, interest, and fees.

The court action comes after the school, which opened in 1998, was rocked by months of turmoil, including the ouster in late June of M. Christine Wiggins, Imhotep’s founding chief executive.

The Imhotep board voted not to renew Wiggins’ contract after the School District’s charter office said in April that it would recommend not renewing the school’s charter on several grounds, including poor academic performance.


The lawyer for the school said the lawsuit was frivolous and that all bills were paid.



Sharon Wilson, a lawyer who represents Sankofa Network, said the nonprofit acted after it was told by the bank that as of Oct. 1 it was delinquent nearly $900,000 in repaying a construction loan and a line of credit.


In addition to uncertainty about the financial stability of the school, charter authorizers worried about its academic performance:


Concerns about academic performance at Imhotep prompted the district’s charter office to express reservations about renewing the school’s charter.


Although Imhotep, which has 525 students in grades nine through 12, has been praised for sending a high percentage of its graduates to college, the school’s records show that in 2013, only 9 percent of Imhotep students scored proficient on the state’s Keystone exams in Algebra 1 and 5 percent in Biology 1. In literature, 37 percent were proficient.


When I see billionaires throwing huge sums into local and state elections with the hope of opening more charters, I wonder if they believe their claims that charters will improve American education. Do they know that none of the world’s high-performing nations have charters or vouchers?





While Republicans made big gains across the nation, Pennsylvania was a stark exception. Democrat Tom Wolf beat Republican Governor Tom Corbett by a large margin. The main issue of the campaign was Corbett’s devastating cuts to public schools. Other budget-cutting governors won; why was Corbett whipped?

Here is the answer: Parent power. Parents never forgot what Corbett did and they built a grassroots movement to keep alive the voters’ memory and outrage about what Corbett had done to public schools.

Jesse Ramey–the blogger Yinzercation–explains here the victory strategy. Parents were relentless. They never gave up.

“What really dogged Corbett was – us! Ordinary parents, students, teachers, and community members refused to let this issue go. We wrote letters to the editor, op-eds, and blog pieces; we staged rallies and demonstrations; we held mock-bake sales; we wrote petitions and got on buses to Harrisburg to deliver thousands of signatures; we hosted public debates, lectures, and national authors. With “dogged” determination, we took every opportunity to counter Corbett’s attempts to minimize the damage he was inflicting on our schools: we took to social media and made on-line comments on news stories at every chance.

“Some folks had been doing this work for many years and became advisors and mentors to the more recent groundswell of advocacy, as we joined the long arc of the education justice movement. We connected with others across the state, from Philadelphia, to the Lehigh Valley, State College, Shippensburg, Erie, and beyond. I’m especially grateful to parent leaders such as Helen Gym, Rebecca Poyourow, Susan Spicka, Mark Spengler, and Dana Bacher. One take away message from this election is “don’t mess with Pennsylvania parents – or hurt their kids and schools!”

You can be sure that this powerful coalition will not let Governor Wolf forget why he was elected.

Larry Feinberg, who runs the Keystone State Education Coalition of public school advocates, offered the following summary of K12 Inc.’s Agora charter school in Pennsylvania:

Pennsylvania’s Agora Cyber Charter, managed by K12, Inc. never made adequate yearly progress under No Child Left Behind

· In 2006 its AYP status was Warning

· In 2007 its AYP status was School Improvement 1

· In 2008 its AYP status was School Improvement 2

· In 2008 its AYP status was Corrective Action 1

· In 2010 its AYP status was Corrective Action 2 (1st Year)

· In 2011 its AYP status was Corrective Action 2 (2nd Year)

· In 2012 its AYP status was Corrective Action 2 (3rd Year)

In 2013 (no more AYP) Agora’s Pennsylvania School Performance Profile score was 48.3 on a 100 point scale; Acting Sec’y of Education Carolyn Dumaresq has indicated that a score of 70 is considered passing.

In addition to never making AYP, Agora’s 2012 graduation rate was 45% while the Philly SD graduation rate was 57%.

School Choices: K12 Inc execs taking $2K per student in salary. 8 execs, 75K students, $21M in salaries. 20% of revenue in 8 pockets.

Morningstar Executive Compensation

The School Reform Commission of Philadelphia, controlled by the state, recently canceled the teachers’ contract to extract savings from the teachers’ benefits to plug a huge budget gap created by Governor Corbett’s $1 billion in cuts to education in the state. Corbett apparently hopes to privatize as many public schools as possible during his tenure. He likes to blame teachers for budget crises instead of his budget cuts. He is up for re-election in a few weeks. He should lose. He is a disaster for public education.

For Immediate Release
October 15, 2014

Kate Childs Graham

American Federation of Teachers Launches Political Ad Buy on Philly School Crisis

WASHINGTON— The American Federation of Teachers Committee on Political Education has launched an ad buy that tells the true story of the teachers’ contract in Philadelphia. The six-figure radio ad buy—which features Philadelphia educators Steve Flemming and Sharnae Wilson—started airing in the Philadelphia media market Oct. 14.

“You have to wonder why Gov. Corbett’s School Reform Commission is more determined to misrepresent contract negotiations as a pretext for imposing concessions than to work with the teachers and support staff in Philadelphia who have been the glue holding schools together,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten. “Gov. Corbett has been blaming and attacking them for months on end. Now, weeks before he is up for re-election, his School Reform Commission pulls this stunt. It’s unacceptable and voters won’t stand for it.”

“Something doesn’t add up,” said Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan. “We put $24 million in healthcare savings and $10 million in wage freezes on the table 14 months ago. The School Reform Commission refused the money and then stopped negotiating altogether in July. If they were serious about helping kids, they would work with us, not try to break us.”

Ad script

Steve: My name is Steve and I teach third grade. I absolutely love teaching.

Sharnae: My name is Sharnae. My passion has always been teaching.

Steve: The budget cuts are having a huge impact.

Sharnae: There are too many students in the classroom. We have to buy our own supplies.

Narrator: From old textbooks to outdated equipment to overcrowded classrooms, our Philadelphia teachers are up against many challenges … and yet they keep going.

Steve: We teach our hearts out every single day.

Sharnae: Hoping things will get better.

Narrator: Gov. Corbett cut $1 billion from Pennsylvania’s schools. Fourteen months ago, Philadelphia teachers put millions in healthcare savings on the table. But Gov. Corbett’s School Reform Commission refused to accept their offer. And now? The School Reform Commission is trying to pull the plug on our teachers’ contract. Choosing to spend money in the courtroom instead of the classroom.

Sharnae: The students are suffering.

Steve: Something must change.

Narrator: Send a message to Gov. Corbett and the SRC. Tell them to stand with our kids, our schools and our teachers. Vote Nov. 4.

Paid for by American Federation of Teachers Committee on Political Education. The American Federation of Teachers is responsible for the content of this ad.

Click here to listen to the ad.

### reports today that Corbett is against the Common Core but maybe he is for them, or was until the election:

“NEW SITE FOR KEYSTONE STATE STANDARDS: Pennsylvania state education officials say a website for collecting public comment on the state’s new academic standards will be live sometime this week. Gov. Tom Corbett, currently fighting an uphill battle for a second term, called for public hearings on the standards in math and English last month. That confused some state lawmakers who thought Corbett backed the standards, which were approved last year by the state Board of Education and look like a slightly tweaked version of the Common Core. But Corbett said the public hearings were “the final phase” in a three-year fight “to permanently roll back” the Common Core. The new website will be interactive, a state education official told Morning Education, and anyone interested can submit their comments or feedback through the website. It will act as a repository for two to three months before state officials schedule public hearings on the standards.”

When is cheating not cheating? When it happens in a charter school whose owner is politically powerful. When it threatens the very foundations of test-based accountability, the foundation of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top.

Ask me no questions, I’ll tell you no lies.

The story begins:

“The odds that 11th-graders at Strawberry Mansion High School would have randomly erased so many wrong answers on the math portion of their 2009 state standardized test and then filled in so many right ones were long. Very, very long. To be precise, they were less than one in a duodecillion, according to an erasure analysis performed for the state Department of Education.

“In short, there appeared to be cheating — and it didn’t come as a total surprise. In 2006, student members of Youth United for Change protested being forced out of class for test-preparation sessions and won concessions from the district. In 2010, principal Lois Powell-Mondesire left Strawberry Mansion; after her departure, test scores dropped sharply.

“But despite the erasure analysis and those suspicious circumstances, neither Powell-Mondesire nor any other teacher or administrator at Strawberry Mansion was ever disciplined. On the contrary, Powell-Mondesire was promoted — to a job at school-district headquarters, earning more than $145,000 as a “turnaround principal” charged with helping other administrators boost student achievement. (Powell-Mondesire, who retired July 1, could not be reached for comment. Neither the District nor the state would say whether her exit was related to the cheating investigation.)…

“After all, politically, the state would have a great deal to lose by prosecuting cheaters. Some of the most damning evidence of cheating has come from Philadelphia, a district run by the state since 2002, and from charters, including a Chester school run by a prominent leader in Pennsylvania’s self-described school-reform movement who is a backer of Gov. Tom Corbett. But more than that, bubble tests have become the high-stakes centerpiece of American public education; when the scores are tainted, it could throw an entire way of running schools into question.

“Given the scope of the issue and the lack of action since, it appears Pennsylvania is covering up one of the country’s largest cheating scandals — and doing so in plain sight.”

Here is the latest from Donald Cohen of “In the Public Interest,” which exposes privatization scams.

Donald Cohen writes:

“A $300,000 plane. $861,000 to pay off personal debts and keep open a struggling restaurant. A down payment on a house and an office flush with flat-screen televisions, executive bathrooms and granite counter tops. This isn’t a list of expenditures from Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, this represents a small slice of the more than $30 million of taxpayer funds that have been wasted through fraud and abuse in Pennsylvania’s charter schools since they first opened in 1997.

A new report from the Center for Popular Democracy, Integrity in Education, and Action United is blowing the lid off the lack of public oversight at Pennsylvania’s 186 charter schools.

“Inadequate audit techniques, insufficient oversight staff, and a lack of basic transparency have created a charter system that is ripe for abuse in the Keystone state. But there is hope. The report provides a detailed roadmap for the state to create an effective oversight structure and provide meaningful protections that can curtail endemic fraud and waste.

“The report calls for an immediate moratorium on new charters until the inadequate oversight system can be replaced with rigorous and transparent oversight. That’s the right first step.

“According to the authors, charter school enrollment in the state has doubled three times since 2000 and Pennsylvania’s students, their families, and taxpayers cannot afford to lose another $30 million. Pennsylvania’s students and taxpayers deserve better.


Donald Cohen
Executive Director
In the Public Interest

Thank you!

From the In The Public Interest Team

“The Notebook” reports on the disgraceful funding of schools in Pennsylvania, especially Philadelphia.

Corporate tax breaks mean more to Governor Corbett and the Legislature than children. Public schools don’t make campaign contributions. Charter operators and corporations do.

Says “The Notebook”:

“It’s hard to overstate the deplorable conditions facing Philadelphia school children again this fall: another year of bare-bones education, overcrowded classrooms, and gaps in essential services like counseling and nursing.

“But Philadelphia is by no means the only Pennsylvania district to see budgets slashed and the jobs of teachers, librarians, nurses, and counselors eliminated. Districts across the state are reeling from four years of austerity. Here’s how some were responding this summer:

“Cutting activities: More than one-fourth of districts were expecting to cut extracurricular activities this year, according to a survey by the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officers.

“Laying off teachers: Allentown’s school district axed more than 60 teaching positions – on top of more than 400 cut in the three prior years.

“Eliminating the arts: A district near Scranton announced it can no longer afford music instruction for students through 2nd grade.

“Something is seriously wrong with this picture. Pennsylvania is not a poor state and is situated in one of the richest countries in the world. But many districts can’t provide our children with school personnel we once took for granted. Not to mention books, technology – and in some cases, soap and toilet paper.

“The Corbett administration would like us to believe that the problem in Philadelphia is that teachers haven’t sacrificed financially. But teachers deserve to be adequately compensated for their vital work and are right to resist a race to the bottom in education spending.”

Corbett is a disgrace.


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