Archives for category: Philadelphia

It is not bad enough that Governor Tom Corbett and the Pennsylvania legislature are starving the Philadelphia public schools of basic necessities. Here comes the charter lobby to launch an expensive media campaign to persuade parents to pull their kids out of the public schools and put them into charters.

Politico reports:

“SCHOOL CHOICE HITS THE AIRWAVES: Proponents of school choice have launched a major PR blitz in Philadelphia. For the next four weeks, they’ll saturate both morning TV and the evening news, on all four major channels, with 30-second spots featuring parents talking about why their kids are thriving in charter schools. Similar messages will pop up on Twitter and in web ads, and organizers are considering adding radio, too. The goal: Prod civic leaders and school officials to open up the system by making it easier for students to transfer among district-run schools – and, above all, by authorizing more privately-run charters. The campaign is organized by Choice Media, a nonprofit news service that focuses heavily on school choice. Executive director Bob Bowdon won’t name his funders; he told Morning Education that he wants to keep the focus on parents and students, not the money behind the (decidedly pricey) campaign. Watch the ads:http://bit.ly/1s9H2rw and http://bit.ly/1pkXhKG”

Bob Bowdon is a choice zealot. in 2009, he produced a movie called “The Cartel,” mostly about public education in New Jersey. He portrayed the teachers’ union as akin to a mafia-type organization and the public schools as rife with corruption. His solution: vouchers and charters. He surely won’t mention the 18 Philadelphia charter schools that were the subject of federal investigation for financial mis dealing.

In an interview with “The Notebook,” civil rights attorney Michael Churchill of the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia explains why previous litigation failed and what should happen now to assure that all children get a “thorough and efficient system of public education,” as the law requires.

Here is a small part of a very informative exchange:

Q.: What other legislative or policy fixes could help settle the District’s long-term finances?

A. There are lots. The charter funding formula is absolutely crazy, one of the worst in the country.

But that’s small potatoes compared to our single biggest problem – the state puts in too small a share of funding. Pennsylvania appropriates about 35 percent of the cost of public education. Pennsylvania needs to get up to about 50 percent of the cost of education.

And while they’re figuring that out, they need to calculate real costs – like the cost of educating kids in poverty. When you do that, you’ll take care of the problems. Everything else is just cosmetic – moving around the deck chairs on the Titanic, as people like to say.

We do actually have a commission to look into a new funding formula that’ll start this summer. But we know the solutions. It’s not a mystery. What’s lacking is political will.

Q.: What about the city? Is it contributing enough?

A. Philadelphia used to be near the bottom of local contributions. Now we’re contributing above the median of the rest of the state. This is clearly now a state problem, not a Philadelphia problem.

Q.: Last time we had a funding formula, it didn’t last. Is there any way to compel legislators to use whatever they create?

A.: Most other states have found that the judiciary will step in and say that the constitution [which in Pennsylvania requires a “a thorough and efficient system of public education”] has to be upheld.

In the 1990s, Pennsylvania’s judiciary decided they would not step in. They had some reasons why, but many of those have changed.

For example, we don’t have local control at the level we used to. The state now sets graduation standards. The state sets testing standards. The state tells districts how they have to spend money.

Therefore, there are much stronger grounds for judicial intervention to make sure that the state is providing adequate funding. That’s my thought on the matter. We’ll have to see whether the judiciary agrees.

And here is another exchange:

Q.: Let’s go back to charter finances. What are some policy changes that could stabilize the whole system?

A.: There’s a whole range of numbers that need to be looked at so that there’s some relationship to cost.

For example, charters have been paid for special education at a rate that’s completely phony, year after year. Chester gets paid $36,000 per special-ed student. But most of them are getting “language and occupational therapy” once a week. That’s a minimal expense.

The cyber charters, which are the fastest-growing section of the charter movement, don’t have any of the same costs as brick-and-mortar charters, but they get the same money. The state hasn’t been able to fix that one, even though the auditor general has been writing reports about it for six years. It’s a complete waste of valuable resources.

And then, there needs to be a complete new set of transparency rules, so we know what charters are spending and accomplishing, and we don’t have the kind of waste and fraud we’ve seen.

Q.: What’s your plan to influence the governor’s race this fall?

A.: I believe that by the fall, we’ll be engaged in the kind of litigation like we talked about, to lay out the facts as to why 50 percent of the schools in Pennsylvania do not meet the standards the state has set for itself.

That’s a massive failure, and it’s closely related to underfunding – which has been known since 2007, when the state issued a report about real costs. We’ll bring that to the attention of the courts and the public.

Q.: The counter-argument is that we need to reduce costs, not spend more. Why shouldn’t Philadelphia be thinking about strategically increasing charter enrollment? Would that drive costs down?

A.: There’s no evidence that that really does, or that it’s sustainable over any length of time. That strategy relies on churn — lots of young teachers who turn over constantly. That is the enemy of a slow-and-steady progress model.

In Chester, for example, they have the largest charter population of any district in the state [by percentage], but they’re no further ahead than other students. But it does cost a great deal more, and a lot of that money is being funneled off into private payrolls.

I think everybody’s been surprised at some of the good things we’ve seen in charters that can be used in regular schools.

But we need to find ways that we adapt those, rather than create so much change that it sets back progress. We don’t want a two-tiered system. We don’t want public schools to be only for those who can’t figure out how to get out of them. What happens inevitably as you privatize is, things become stratified. To me, that would be far too high a price to pay.

Meredith Broussard, a professor of data journalism at Temple University, was helping her son with his homework, and she made a discovery: he could not find “the right answer” to homework questions unless they were in the textbook. But on further investigation, she learned that the public schools of Philadelphia don’t have a textbook budget. So not only do students not have access to the answers that will be on the test, they don’t have a chance to succeed.

In an article that she wrote for “The Atlantic,” she concluded that after $1 billion in state budget cuts, the Philadelphia public schools had a budget of $0 for textbooks. These students don’t have a chance.

In 2013, the National Council on Teacher Quality offered its advice on how to fix Philadelphia’s financially beleaguered public schools. Retired teacher Lisa Haver reviewed its counsel to the city. Haver is a founder of the grass-roots advocacy organization Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools.

In this article, Haver wrote:

“”Thank heavens,” you’re thinking. The district is so broke it’s looking for loose change in the corner of desk drawers; thousands of students and teachers whose schools will close forever in June don’t know where they’ll be in September; parents wonder whether their children will have access to a nurse or counselor, or remember what a school librarian is; Harrisburg says don’t call us – we’ll call you.

“What does the Council [NCTQ] recommend that the district do to solve these problems? Crack down on teachers who get too many sick days, don’t deserve collective-bargaining rights, are too hard to fire and waste time getting advanced degrees in their field.”

This is the same organization that recently “rated” the nation’s teacher preparation programs without going to the trouble of visiting the campuses.

The state-operated school district of Philadelphia bluntly admitted it could not afford to provide a sound basic education to the children of the district. It sought court approval for continuing to short-change the children of Philadelphia.

The Education Law Center reports:

“In March, Philadelphia’s state-operated school district filed an extraordinary legal complaint with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The lawsuit asks the Court to approve changes in school staffing levels and the way teachers are transferred and laid off, effectively nullifying portions of a collective bargaining agreement between the Philadelphia School District and the teachers union.

“Much attention has focused on the district’s request for changes in teacher staffing and work rules. But unnoticed is the district’s stark admission of the deplorable conditions that Philadelphia’s school children must endure after 17 years of direct state control over their education.

“In the court filing, the district says it wants to ease lay-off and transfer rules caused by an “unprecedented gap” between available funding and what’s needed just to maintain services at “prior year” levels. The district then describes the services it hopes to maintain, levels so palpably inadequate as to fall far below even minimum education standards.

“The complaint details the sub-basic education programs and support services now in district-operated schools. The district describes teacher and support staff as “bare bones,” at levels “20 percent smaller than the year before and 33 percent than just three years ago.” The district concedes it has made “very steep” layoffs, a one-third reduction in employees in just three years, leaving schools with “barely adequate” staffing.

“The district goes on to catalogue a parade of resource deficits plaguing the system: over 40 schools with no guidance counselor of its own; three-fourths of schools with no librarian assistant; and “significant cuts” to instructional materials and supplies, enrichment opportunities for students, extracurricular activities, administrative support and school cleaning services. And, of course, as parents of Philadelphia children know all too well: closing 24 neighborhood public schools.

“The complaint also acknowledges the “short supply” of school nurses, a fact familiar to Philadelphians in light of the deaths of two young students in schools lacking a full-time nurse in recent months.

“Even more remarkable, the district pinpoints the state’s $300 million aid cut in 2011-12 as being at the “root” of these serious deficiencies. And the district presents no evidence that the relief it asks for — making teacher layoffs and transfers easier — will generate any real budgetary savings. The district doesn’t offer the Court a plan for bringing teacher and support staff back to reasonable levels, reducing class size, providing interventions to struggling students, and keeping neighborhood schools open, safe and clean.

“The district’s filing is the legal equivalent of asking the Supreme Court for permission to rearrange deck chairs on a fast-sinking ship.”

In this article, veteran journalist Dale Mezzacappa reviews the tumult in Philadelphia and interviews people who have known the issues for 20 years or more. Given the high poverty in the district and the state’s neglect, not much has changed for the better.

Mezzacappa says there are more choices than ever. But the district is in terrible trouble:

“The state took over the District’s governance. Charter schools proliferated. Dozens of neighborhood schools were closed, including such landmarks as the 99-year-old Germantown High.

“Despite the state takeover, the District’s financial condition has only become more desperate.

“State and federal pressure to intervene in schools with consistently subpar performance mounted; standardized testing became the major driver of school rankings. “

“All these changes have happened within larger shifts – demographic, political, social, and economic. Philadelphia has become the country’s most impoverished big city, with 13 percent of residents – an astonishing 200,000 people – living in deep poverty, or on less than $9,700 for a household of three.”

“As income and wealth inequality have worsened, the dividing lines in this region by race and income are starker than ever. Philadelphia school enrollment is mostly Black and Hispanic and low-income, while the surrounding districts are mostly White and middle- or high-income. Spending gaps between wealthier and poorer districts have never been bigger. Philadelphia schools struggle harder to overcome the effects of concentrated poverty – all while the District’s funding base has crumbled.”

Now charters and district schools compete for limited funds. Schools are stripped to bare essentials.

Read what the veterans say.

Lots of reform. Not much progress.

The Notebook is a reliable source for honest, balanced journalism in Philadelphia. If you are in the area, please celebrate its 20th anniversary, as well as its tribute to local high school journalists.

Please reserve your spot for the Notebook’s annual Turning the Page for Change celebration on Tuesday, June 10, 2014, from 4:30 – 7 p.m. at the University of The Arts, Hamilton Hall, 320 S. Broad Street. We are celebrating our 20th anniversary as well as honoring top local high school journalists.

Admissions are $75 per person. Those who are 25 and under may attend for $25. Membership on the host committee, which includes two event admissions, begins at $300. Those who are Notebook members at the Associate level or higher ($75 or more) may attend for $50.

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Parents at the Luis Munoz Marin public school in Philadelphia voted overwhelmingly to oppose a charter takeover of their school.

“After a bitterly fought battle, parents at Luis Muñoz Marín Elementary have voted to keep their school a part of the Philadelphia public school system, rejecting a charter organization’s takeover proposal.

“According to results announced Thursday night by Philadelphia School District officials, 223 parents wanted Muñoz Marín to remain a traditional public school and 70 voted for ASPIRA of Pennsylvania to take control.

“In a separate vote, 11 members of the school’s advisory council wanted to remain with the district. None voted for ASPIRA.

“Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. has the final say on the fate of the struggling North Third Street school, which has 700 students in kindergarten through eighth grade. A decision is expected soon.”

This is the second Philadelphia school where parents rejected a charter takeover. “Steel, an elementary school with 540 students in Nicetown, faced possible conversion by Mastery Charter Schools, but its parents overwhelmingly said they did not want that affiliation. Hite approved the parents’ choice.”

Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/education/20140606_Parents_at_Phila__school_reject_takeover_by_charter.html#JvAbRmjOyGXDZ0Wv.99

When people write Pennsyvania Governor Tom Corbett to complain about the devastating effects of his budget cuts on the children of Philadelphia, he responds by blaming the teachers’ union for not accepting even deeper cuts. A few days ago, a first-grader died; there was no school nurse on duty. Her position had been cut from five days a week to one day a week plus another occasional day. This was the second child to die in a school where Corbett’s budget cuts had eliminated the full-time nurse. Corbett blames the teachers.

Governor Corbett accepts no responsibilty. His response to critics betrays a guilty heart, or a man without one.

This teacher, Steven Singer, describes what happened when he wrote a letter to Governor Corbett.

“Wow! I am flabbergasted by PA Gov. Tom Corbett’s reaction to the second Philadelphia student dying at school without a nurse on duty! As many of you did, I wrote him a letter asking him to please increase funding so tragedies like this are not repeated. He must be getting some heat because this is the first time he’s ever actually answered any of my correspondences.

“His answer was basically: (1) how dare the Philadelphia Teachers Union intrude on the family’s suffering to make a political point and (2) if only the teachers union would take concessions and work for less money, the state would have enough to pay for nurses!

“The deaths of these two students are direct consequences of Corbett’s education policies! He slashed education funding by close to $1 billion every year for the last 3 years! This resulted in 20,000 teachers being laid off, class sizes skyrocketing, the elimination of art, music and extra curricular activities – and, yes, school nurses! If this is not the time to address the issue of his malfeasance, when is!? Once people have time to forget? He did nothing after the first student died. Hadn’t the time come yet to address that issue before the second one died!? Will there be time to address the issue before another child dies? Would rushing to judgement after three years be too uncouth!?

“And then he blames teachers for asking to be treated fairly! Sure if we all just accepted sweat shop conditions, think of the money the state could lavish on our schools – to Pearson and Common Core!

“We had very low voter turnout during the primary that put Democratic candidate Tom Wolf as Corbett’s November challenger for governor. If people don’t show up to kick this bum out of office, we will all deserve what we get! Correction: we’ll deserve it, but the kids who mostly aren’t old enough to vote, will continue to be the innocent victims of this poisonous political hack!

“Here is Corbett’s letter:

“Putting the safety and educational needs of our students first must continue to be our top priority. There is an appropriate time and place to call for education policy discussions. Right now, our thoughts should be with the child’s family, friends, school and community who have all been through an extremely traumatic situation.

I am deeply troubled that the union leadership of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers – and by extension the American Federation of Teachers – would use the recent tragedy at Jackson Elementary as an opportunity to make a political statement. For more than a year, we all have asked the union leadership – who are disconnected from the great teachers in Philadelphia who are in the classroom every day – to come to the table and engage in meaningful negotiations to assist in the financial recovery of the Philadelphia School District.

The Commonwealth, the School District, the School Reform Commission and City Council are all working to contribute to the success of Philadelphia’s schools and students. I will continue to ask the union leadership to put the children of Philadelphia first and engage in a meaningful dialogue and a shared vision for the future of the children of Philadelphia.

Tom Corbett”

A first-grade student died in a Philadelphia school whose nurse was not on duty because of budget cuts.

The child was given CPR and sent by ambulance to a hospital, where he died.

In a story by Daniel Denvir, nurse Amy Smigiel said:

“There is no net for the staff or the children,” she says. “There’s no requirement to have any kind of medical team. It’s my job as the nurse to make sure there’s an emergency plan, and basically it is 911…The equipment isn’t there, nothing is there for them.”

“Smigiel works at Jackson only on Thursdays and every other Friday. Until five years ago, Smigiel says that she was present at Jackson every single day. Smigiel says that she has worked at Jackson for 12 years, and worked for 15 years prior in an emergency room…..

“Philadelphia public schools have long lacked necessary funding, but recent cuts by Gov. Tom Corbett have sent the District into an increasingly dire fiscal crises. As of last fall, there were 179 nurses working in public, private and parochial schools, down from 289 in 2011. In September, sixth-grader Laporshia Massey died of what her father described as an asthma attack after falling sick while no nurse was on duty at Bryant Elementary School. The death caused an outcry against school budget cuts, and Corbett soon released $45 million for the District that had been withheld on the condition of teachers union concessions. Corbett denied that the funding was related to Massey’s death.”

How many more children will die before the Governor and the Legislature are held accountable? Who will press criminal charges against those who endanger the lives of children? Isn’t that what accountability is all about? The officials with the power to safeguard the lives of these children abandoned them. Surely the preservation of lives is more important than test scores and budget savings.

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