Archives for category: Pennsylvania

Is Chester-Upland School District the frog in the boiling pot of water that is a warning to every other school district in the state of Pennsylvania?

The Chester Community Charter School is a subject of endless fascination. It has absorbed 70% of the elementary school students in the impoverished district of Chester-Upland in Pennsylvania. Its scores are low, lower even than the district schools. It is owned by an extremely wealthy suburban lawyer, who is a major campaign contributor to Republicans in the state. He receives a healthy profit every year from the charter school in Chester-Upland, despite the fact that the school is low-performing. Meanwhile, the school district has been in receivership since 2012, while the charter school is thriving. The district has been bankrupted by payments to the charter school and to cyber charters. That is the way the state law was written by charter-friendly Republicans in the Legislature.

The Chester-Upland School District is a majority-minority district: It is 18% white; 67% African American; 11% Hispanic; the remainder, other groups.

Peter Greene writes here about this district.

The school district is Chester Uplands, and they’ve been in the charter-related news before. Specifically, they were the poster child for how a careful gaming of the charter system in Pennsylvania could result in huge charter profits. As I wrote at the time:

The key is that while all CUSD students with special needs come with a hefty $40K for a charter school, they are not all created equal. Students on the autism spectrum are expensive to teach; they make up 8.4% of CUSD special ed student population, but only 2.1% at Chester Community Charter School, and a whopping 0% at Widener and Chester Community School of the Arts. Emotionally disturbed students are also costly; they make up 13.6 % of special ed at CUSD, 5.3% at Chester Community, and zero at the other two. Intellectual disabilities make up 11.6% for CUSD, 2.8% for CCCS, and zero for the others. 

Speech and language impaired, however, are pretty inexpensive to educate. CUSD carries 2.4% of the special ed population in this category, but the three charters carry 27.4%, 20.3% and 29.8%.

Back in 2015, this helped put CUSD in the astonishing position of giving more money to charter schools than it received from the state.

In 2015, the district made a deal to cut its payments to cyber charters (which are among the lowest performing schools in the state).

Greene writes:

In 2015 the district made a deal for charters to accept less money for students with special needs, but the cyber charters went to court to be exempted– and the court eventually agreed, giving CUSD a huge retroactive bill to pay cyber charters.

The district has long been attractive to worst of charter vultures. Not just the cybers, but for-profit management companies like CSMI, founded by the infamous Vahan Gureghian, charter school multimillionaire and generous GOP donor.

Currently, charters enroll about half of the 7,000 student district population. CSMI would like to have a larger piece of the pie and run all of the elementary education in Chester Uplands, and it has asked the court to hand them over (because the district itself has no say in this). CSMI runs some charters elsewhere, including a school in New Jersey that is the subject of a whistleblower lawsuit. The suit was filed by a former principal who says she was fired for making a fuss over CSMI’s policy of cutting corners to make a buck. Cutting corners didn’t just mean cutting services; it also meant falsifying records and misappropriating funds. Great company.

Open the post to see beautiful pictures of the charter owner’s gorgeous estate in Pennsylvania and his recently sold mansion in Palm Beach.

The lesson, says Greene, is that there is no real difference between for-profit and nonprofit charters. The Chester Community Charter School is “nonprofit.”

It is unclear how much money CSMI would make on the Chester Uplands deal because, as a private business, it doesn’t have to account for its financial activities– even though they are funded by trhe taxpayers. Do you see why, when someone like Cory Booker or Pete Buttigieg starts talking about how only for-profit charters are bad, they are just selling thinly sliced baloney. Chester Community Charter School is a non-profit school–that generates profits for the CSMI management company that runs it, and runs it like a business and not like a school.

The Inquirer quoted the CUSD school board president–his primary concern isn’t the charter takeover of the elementary schools as much as it is the inadequate funding from the state. “Ask them what they have done for 25 years in Chester Upland.” He has sort of a point, but the fact is that this non-weathy non-white district is in danger of losing all local control and voice.

This is what chartering as a tool of privatization looks like. Gut the public schools. Chase the students into profitable charters. Strip every last asset from the public school and strip all the power from the voters and taxpayers. Operate charters like businesses; every dollar you spend on students is a dollar you don’t get to keep. Make some guy a multimillionaire while stripping public education and democratic voice from the members of a poor community.

This chart comparing the charter school to the district’s four elementary and middle-schools was prepared by the Keystone State Education Coalition.

This chart summarizes the PA Dept. of Education’s Future Ready Index reports for the Chester Community Charter School (CCCS) and the four Chester Upland School District elementary/middle schools.

 

Indicator Name CCCS Main Street Stetser Sch of Arts Toby Farms
Percent Proficient or Advanced on ELA/Literature (All Student) 16.3 31 52.3 18.2 12.5
Percent Proficient or Advanced on Mathematics/Algebra 1 (All Student) 6.4 7.6 13.8 10.2 2.3
Percent Proficient or Advanced on Science/Biology (All Student) 22.8 36.7 59.5 59.6 13.7
Meeting Annual Academic Growth Expectations (PVAAS) ELA/Literature (All Student) 63 78 94 76 50
Meeting Annual Academic Growth Expectations (PVAAS) Mathematics/Algebra 1 (All Student) 78 100 77 81 54
Meeting Annual Academic Growth Expectations (PVAAS) Science/Biology (All Student) 50 69 70 97 50
Percent Advanced on ELA/Literature (All Student) 1.2 1.9 15.6 1.2 0.6
Percent Advanced on Mathematics/Algebra 1 (All Student) 1 0 1.8 3 0.6
Percent Advanced on Science/Biology (All Student) 2.8 8.3 16.2 7.7 0.9
Percent  English Language Growth and Attainment (All Student) 22.9 IS IS IS IS
Percent of Students with Regular Attendance (All Student) 48.7 59.2 59.8 53.4 42.1
Percent Grade 3 Reading (All Student) 14.5 24.4 37 20.7  DNA
Percent Grade 7 Mathematics (All Student) 6  DNA  DNA  DNA 1.7
Percent Grade 5, Grade 8, and/or Grade 11 Career Standards Benchmark (All Student) 98 98 98 98 98

Lawrence A. Feinberg of the Keystone State Education Coalition writes:

Flooding from Katrina precipitated the charterization of NOLA schools. Will a historical flood of campaign contributions do the same for Chester Upland SD? PA Department of Education Future Ready Index reports show that 3 of the 4 Chester Upland school district’s elementary/middle schools are outperforming the Chester Community Charter School. Why would the charter school operator want to charterize all the elementary schools in the district? There is no Right-to-Know requirement for private charter management companies like Vahan Gureghian’s CSMI, but the 990 for Chester Community Charter School for last year alone lists $18 million in management fees.

 

 

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported on a federal audit that had surprising findings.

A national audit of charter school management companies by the U.S. Department of Education has spotlighted an unnamed Chester City school where, auditors say, the CEO wrote checks to himself totaling $11 million without board approval.

The report by the Office of Inspector General did not accuse the CEO of wrongdoing, but offered its finding as an example of a conflict of interest and lack of financial controls that could make the schools vulnerable to fraud. The report cited similar issues at four unnamed Philadelphia charter schools…In the instance of the Chester school, federal auditors reported that the CEO of the management organization wrote checks to himself in 2008-09.

While the audit did not name the school, there is only one charter in Chester City – Chester Community Charter School…

The school, which has more than 3,000 K-8 students, is the largest brick-and-mortar charter in the state. The most recent annual report from the state Department of Education shows that the school had total revenue of $45.1 million in the fiscal year 2013.

Vahan H. Gureghian, a lawyer and entrepreneur who has been active in Republican politics, is the founder and CEO of CSMI Education Management, which manages Chester Community Charter School.

Auditor General Eugene De Pasquale repeatedly has criticized the ties between Chester Community and Gureghian’s firm….

In addition to Pennsylvania, the states where charter schools were reviewed were California, New York, Florida, Michigan, and Texas.Investigators found internal control weaknesses with charter management organizations at 22 of the 33 schools reviewed. They spotted 24 cases of conflicts of interest and transactions with related parties at 17 of the charter schools.

Staff and parents of students in the remaining public schools of the Chester-Upland district in Pennsylvania, are planning a rally to protest the charter proposal to take over all the elementary students. The district’s big charter, owned by a for-profit corporation that belongs to a wealthy lawyer, has lower scores on state tests than the public schools it wants to close.

Chester Community Charter School, owned by wealthy Republican donor Vehan Gureghian, is a low-performing charter.

The charter aims to eliminate one choice: local public schools.

If the supporters of the public schools had external funding, they could buy everyone a matching T-shirt, like charters do.

Chester Upland School District employees will hold a rally with parents and other community members next week with the hope of staving off a “charter school takeover” of all elementary schools in the district.

“They’re trying to take over pre-K through eighth grade,” said Dariah Jackson, a life skills teacher at Stetser Elementary School and vice president of the local teacher’s union. “We would just have our high school students.”

Chester Community Charter School, the largest brick-and-mortar charter school in the state with more than 4,300 students, already educates more than half of the district’s elementary school children.

The charter filed a petition earlier this month in the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas asking the court to direct the district and Pennsylvania Department of Education to issue requests for proposals for charters to educate the remaining elementary school students in the district….

The charter schools – they’re sucking up our funding,” said Jackson. “They’re getting a higher percentage of school district funds. We don’t have enough money because it’s going to the charter schools. That’s one of the arguments, that financially we’re not doing well, but financially we’re not doing well because we’re giving them the money.”

Jackson added that the idea of placing all elementary school students into charters goes against the very “school choice” idea proponents of charters espouse.

They’re taking away the parents’ choice and they’re only giving them one option,” she said. “The charter school was created to give the parents an option other than a public school district. We have parents who want to send their children to the public school district, but they’re taking that option away.”

Jackson added that Chester Upland’s traditional elementary schools outperform CCCS in Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests and said that with more funding, they could do even better. She also pointed to extracurricular activities available in the public schools like football and soccer that are not offered elsewhere in the city.

You read it here first. It has not appeared online.

Pennsylvania Speaker of the House Turzai did not have the votes to bring his voucher bill up for a vote.

Your emails, phone calls, and letters made a difference!

Stay alert!

He may bring his zombie bill back in the future.

The Network for Public Education Action Fund will keep watch.

 

 

 

One charter school in the Chester-Upland district in Pennsylvania enrolls 60% of the district’s elementary schools. It is owned by one of the richest men in the state, a lawyer who was Republican Tom Corbett’s biggest campaign donor. That charter school, the Chester Community Charter School, has asked the county to turn all of the district’s elementary students over to charters. 

CCCS is not just any charter. It has received special treatment, despite its poor performance.

More than 4,300 students in kindergarten through eighth grade are already enrolled in Chester Community Charter, which is managed by CSMI. The for-profit education management company was founded by Vahan Gureghian, a Gladwyne lawyer and major Republican donor. It manages another charter school in Atlantic City that was placed on probation by the New Jersey Department of Education this year. A third charter in Camden was previously closed due to poor academic performance. 

In an earlier post, I described how CCCS made a deal in 2017 to win authorization until 2026, which is an unprecedented extension for any charter. In that post, I noted:

Its test scores are very low. Only 16.7% were proficient in English language arts, compared to a state average of 63%. Only 7% were proficient in mathematics, compared to a state average of 45%.

By most metrics, this charter school is a failing school, yet it gets preferential treatment. The scores in the charter school are below those of the remaining public schools in the district.

CCCS promised not to open a high school if it received a new extension. The decision was made by the court-appointed receiver for the district, which had been pushed into near-bankruptcy by CCCS; the receiver had been treasurer for the Corbett campaign. Just a coincidence, no doubt.

The Chester-Upland school district was hammered by a court decision that requires it to send large payments for students with special needs who enroll in cyber charters, even though the cyber charters provide minimal or no services to those students; the cyber charters are a voracious aspect of the state’s landscape, gobbling up full funding while failing to produce any academic gains for students or to meet any state standards.

Brick-and-mortar CCCS is so aggressive that it buses in students from Philadelphia, little children who ride a bus 2-3 hours each way to attend a failing charter school.

This latest move will strip the Chester-Upland District of more funding, leaving it with only a high school.

The charters are akin to a vulture, hollowing out the district and drawing students to low-performing charters with promises.

 

If you live in Pennsylvania, please let your legislators know that you oppose the diversion of public funds to private and religious schools. Stop the DeVos agenda now! Vouchers do not help students or schools or districts! Multiple studies have shown that vouchers divert funding from public schools and reduce services to most students, and that the students who use vouchers actually lose ground compared to their peers who stay in public schools.

Dear Carol,

On Monday, November 18,The House Education Committee is scheduled to vote on voucher legislation under House Bill 1800 (Rep. Turzai, R-Allegheny). House Bill 1800 establishes a voucher program for students in the Harrisburg School District, which entered state receivership in June.  Adding tuition and transportation outlays, House Bill 1800 is estimated to cost the Harrisburg School District $5.5 million to $8.5 million. Could your district be next?

SEND YOUR EMAIL NOW BY CLICKING HERE.

Then call your representatives and ask them to vote NO on HB 1800.

You can find their number below, along with a sample script for your call:

House member contact info:

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


Sample Script

My name is (your name) and I am calling to let (your representative’s name) know that I am opposed to House Bill 1800 and any attempt to give public money to private schools with vouchers. Let’s support our public schools, not private schools with vouchers. Thank you.


Thanks for all you do!

Carol Burris

Donations to NPE Action (a 501(c)(4)) are not tax deductible, but they are needed to lobby and educate the public about the issues and candidates we support.

Steven Singer writes about what is wrong with Speaker of the House Mike Turzai’s bill to authorize vouchers for the underfunded public schools of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: In a word, everything!

He writes:

The best way to help a struggling public school is to cannibalize it.

 

 

At least that’s what Betsy DeVos thinks – and so does her Pennsylvania puppet Mike Turzai.

 

 

The Republican Speaker of the state House is expected to propose a school voucher bill Monday that will treat Harrisburg Schools as nothing more than carrion fit for plunder by school privatization vultures.

Sure the district is in state receivership after decades of neglect and bad decisions by the elected school board.

But instead of helping the school and its students get back on their feet, Turzai proposes siphoning away as much as $8.5 million in state funding set aside for the school’s aide. Alternatively, that money would go to help offset some of the cost of sending Harrisburg students to private or parochial schools if they so desire.

However in lieu of any safeguards to make sure these children fleeing from the public system receive the same quality of services required by state law, Turzai’s bill goes out of its way to protect the vultures!

Under House Bill 1800, private or parochial schools won’t be held as accountable for how they spend the money they plunder from Harrisburg nor will it force them to enroll all comers like authentic public schools are required to do.

Specifically, non-public schools would be allowed to take public tax dollars but refuse any students they wished – based on gender, race, religion, even special educational needs.

 It’s bad policy and bad politics.

Essentially Turzai is proposing we swoop in and tear the district to pieces – for its own good.

The bill would force state taxpayers to pay for half the cost of the voucher program – essentially making us shell out our hard earned money for two parallel education systems.

It’s unclear where the other half of the money would even come from that the state is supposed to match.

Thinking people know this is nonsense on so many levels. If the public schools have problems, there’s no reason to believe school vouchers hold the answer. After all, the best way to save yourself from drowning is to patch up the boat you’re already on. You shouldn’t jump to a lifeboat willy-nilly with no assurance that your escape craft is more seaworthy than the one you’re already sailing on.

And in fact, there is no evidence that voucher schools are better than authentic public schools.

Singer proceeds to review the evidence against vouchers. It is overwhelming. Vouchers do not help students or schools. They harm them. 

 

Republican Mike Turzai, Speaker of the House in Pennsylvania, is encouraging the state to adopt the Betsy DeVos agenda for diverting public funds to religious and private schools.

Turzai’s agenda is described here by Lawrence Feinberg, a school board member in Haverford Township and director of the Keystone State Education Coalition.

Feinberg writes:

The 2022 race for governor’s race has begun, and Pennsylvania House Speaker Mike Turzai wants to make it clear that he shares Betsy DeVos’ vision for privatization of public education.

In a recent Philadelphia Inquirer opinion piece, Turzai, R-Allegheny, touted our state “as a gold standard with respect to funding public school districts”, completely ignoring the fact that Pennsylvania is home to the widest per pupil funding gap between wealth and poor districts in the country.

Under his leadership, the Pennsylvania Legislature has been negligent, willfully and deliberately ignoring the state’s historic gross inequity in the distribution of school funding and locking students in poorer districts into their underfunded and under resourced predicament. A school funding lawsuit is pending, with the trial tentatively set to begin in summer 2020.

In fiscal 2015-16, only 36.8 percent of aggregate education funding came from the state while 57.2 percent came from local sources, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s “Annual Financial Reports.”

The U.S. Census’ “Annual Survey of School System Finances” data from fiscal year 2015 ranks Pennsylvania 47th out of the 50 states in state support for public schools.

Instead of addressing the funding issue, he has consistently and aggressively promoted anything but democratically governed public schools that are accountable to taxpayers. While he supported the Financial Recovery Act of 2012 setting in motion a plan for distressed school districts to get back on track, he is thwarting that effort by ensuring that such districts remain in financial distress.

His signature tax credit program, which diverts public tax dollars to private and religious schools, skirts the Pennsylvania Constitution which explicitly says that “no money raised for the support of the public schools of the Commonwealth shall be appropriated to or used for the support of any sectarian school.”

 

Back in the early days of school choice advocacy, it was often claimed that school choice would “force” the public schools to compete and they would get better because of the magic of the market.

Now we know that was a selling point, and it was not true.

Deborah Gordon Klehr, executive director of the civil rights group Education Law Center-PA, writes about the negative effects of “school choice” on the public schools of Philadelphia. 

The publics schools in that city have long been severely underfunded, and school choice has stripped them of both students and funding, leaving them even worse off.

Klehr writes:

A study of charter schools in Philadelphia published by the Education Law Center earlier this year is a stark reminder that many parents don’t get to choose and that ultimately it may be the school and not the parent doing the choosing. More charters and more slots haven’t cured an ailing school system.

This is not to discount the successes we know exist for students in many city charters. But Philadelphia’s 22-year history of rapid charter expansion coupled with inadequate oversight is entrenching new inequities in an already unequal landscape.

Sometimes the problem is blatant discrimination: For instance, a recurring pattern we see among families who contact us is charters telling students with disabilities, after they have been accepted, “We cannot serve you.” As public schools, charters are prohibited from discriminating against students with disabilities. And yet, we see this pattern persist.

Sometimes the obstacles to enrollment are more subtle; for example, enrollment documents may only be available in English. The results, however, are clear. The population of economically disadvantaged students is 14 percentage points lower in the traditional charter sector (56%) vs. the district sector (70%). And, the percentage of English learners in district schools (11%) is nearly three times higher than in traditional charters (4%), with nearly a third of traditional charters serving no English learners.

Few of the special education students in traditional charters are from the disability categories that typically are most expensive to serve. And, the vast majority of traditional charter schools serve student populations that are two-thirds or more of one racial group – a significantly higher degree of segregation than in district schools.

In short, the city’s traditional charter schools (excluding “Renaissance” charters charged with serving all students from a catchment area) disproportionately enroll a student population that is more advantaged than the students in district-run schools; as a sector, charters are shirking their responsibility of educating all students.

No independent observer could look at the Philadelphia schools—public, charters, and vouchers—and say that any problems have been solved by privatization.

 

Once again, we are reminded that charter schools are a Republican cause, and their champion is Betsy DeVos.

Mike Turzai, Republican Speaker of the House in Pennsylvania, was on his way to a meeting with Betsy DeVos when he encountered some public school teachers, who were picketing with signs saying they loved their public schools.

Turzai found this deeply offensive, and he proceeded to lambaste the teachers as a “special interest group” defending a “monopoly.”

In the video, Turzai praised charter schools, which receive government funding but operate independently of the public school system, saying that in charter schools. “you have to care about each child, not about the monopoly.” He then claimed that the public school advocates were part of a monopoly 

What you care about is a monopoly and special interests,” said Turzai, whose district encompasses the North Hills municipalities of McCandless, Pine, Marshall, Bradford Woods, and Franklin Park. 

One of the advocates then said, “I am little offended from that,” to which Turzai responded, pointing to the posters they were holding, “Oh, I am offended by your posters.”

One poster read “I love public schools.” The other read “Public Money for Public Schools.”

We ♥ our teachers.

Sincerely,
All of Pennsylvania

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