Peter Greene reports on the latest terrible news from Pennsylvania. Because of the highly inequitable funding formula for the state, because of the legislature’s inability to pass a budget for almost a year, because of the burgeoning charter movement, school districts across the state are in dire condition.
Erie is considering closing all its high schools and sending its students to other districts. The decision may be made today. Peter predicts that the end result of this crisis could be the end of public education, as the free-market mania consumes everything in its path:
The district is looking at a $4.3 million gap, and like many districts in PA, it has no possible response except to cut, “including eliminating sports, extracurricular activities, art and music programs, district libraries, and the district’s police department.” Plus cutting various administrative positions out the wazoo.
PA Auditor General Eugene DePasquale has taken a look at Erie finances and determined that the crappy state funding formula and the loss of money to charters are a huge part of the problem. DePasquale has actually been saying this a great deal, all over the state, because from Erie to Philadelphia, bad funding and a terrible charter law are guttting school finance.
It is, of course, the same death spiral visible across the country. If Erie does hang in there, how well can the public schools compete with the charters if the public schools must cut all sorts of services? This is one of the most baloney-stuffed parts of the Free Market Competition Mantra– competition will spur Erie schools to become greater and more competitive by stripping them of the resources they need just to function. Is that how it’s supposed to work?
No, this is how charter eat public schools from the inside out, like free market tapeworms. The more the eat, the weaker public schools become, and the weaker public schools become, the more charters can attack them and eat more….
Particularly in the long term, closing down the high schools and farming out the students qualifies as a viable solution. It also qualifies as a breakdown of the public education system. If the schools shut down (a process that would take over a year), what happens to the students? While there would be public and charter schools that could, maybe, take those students, there’s no guarantee that there would be enough capacity to absorb those students and more importantly, none of those schools would have an obligation to absorb the Erie students (and Erie’s only remaining obligation would be to pay tuition– it would actually be to their benefit if a student is not placed anywhere). Whether the student is expensive to teach or a behavior problem or can’t get transportation or the receiving schools are just out of desks and don’t want to hurt their own programs through overcrowding, there will be students that nobody takes responsibility for….
The bulldozing of public schools in order to make room for the free market presumes that the free market has the chops to absorb what the public system turns loose. What if we burn down the public school to make room for a shiny charter, and all we end up with is a vacant lot? The biggest danger of a botched conversion to a charter choice system is not that we’d end up with a bad charter choice system, but that a city could end up with no system at all.