Archives for category: Pennsylvania

Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education, writes here about Superintendent Joe Roy, a champion for students and public schools. I add him now to the honor roll of the blog.

Superintendent Joe Roy is a fearless fighter for better opportunities for the students that attend his small city school district of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.  His district is diverse, and about 60% receive free or reduced price lunch.
 
In 2016, he was the Pennsylvania Superintendent of the Year. This is what he said when honored, “I’m one person out of 2,000 people in the district who do great work. So many people contribute, and it’s nice to have the recognition, but it shouldn’t be one person.”  That is who Joe Roy is.
 
Two years ago, I spoke with Joe Roy who told me how his district is being drained of funding by charter schools and cyber charters. I was shocked by how much they cost. You can read about our conversation and what I learned here.
 
Now Joe is fighting side by side with other superintendents of Pennsylvania city districts whose finances are becoming unsustainable due to charter school drain. Joe therefore has become a target of the charter lobby. At a public meeting he said the following.
 

“During the question-and-answer portion of the news conference, a reporter asked Roy why parents choose charter schools. The superintendent listed a variety of reasons like academic programs, transportation — for some parents the limited busing to the district’s neighborhood schools is a turn off — and uniforms. The longer school day at some charters paired with the bus ride can mean real child-care savings for families, Roy said.

And some parents send their children to charter schools “to avoid having their kids be with kids coming from poverty or kids with skin that doesn’t look like theirs,” Roy said.”

What Joe Roy said, which anyone who has ever worked in schools knows, is that some parents engage in  “white flight.”  They do so through curriculum tracking or leaving a district for a private or charter school. 
 
The charter lobby of Pennsylvania was outraged! He is calling white parents who choose a charter school “racists”, they claimed. They called for a public apology. They called for his resignation. They did what many charter proponents have been doing lately since pushback against charters has begun–they twisted a statement and then bullied their target.
 
But Joe Roy works for a good board elected by the people of Bethlehem. This was their response:
 
“This board, all nine publicly elected members, support Dr. Roy and echo his comments,” board President Michael Faccinetto said. “We will not back down in this fight for charter reform, and we will not ask Dr. Roy to back down or be silenced because a few unelected lobbyists disagree with the facts.”
 
You can read the full story here
 
Joe Roy is a hero. He does not hate charter schools. But he hates what the 30 million dollars his district must handover to charter schools is doing to his students and taxpayers. He is seeing neighboring districts fall into real financial crisis. He believes in public education and so does his Board of Education.
 
Hooray for the leadership of Bethlehem for speaking the truth to the powerful charter lobby!

Steven Singer discovered that the Pennsylvania Department of Education invited citizens to comment on the state’s charter law.

Now is your chance to be heard.

Steven has some definite ideas about what needs to change and he tells you where to send your own comments.

He writes:

This is a huge opportunity for residents fed up with the nonsense the school privatization industry has been getting away with in the Commonwealth for decades.

Pennsylvania has one of the worst charter school laws in the nation.

Charter schools are taxpayer-funded but privately operated.

Though there are about 180 of these privatized institutions throughout the state with more than 137,000 students, that represents only about 6 percent of the kids enrolled in public school.


Yet the state funding system pits authentic public schools against charter schools for the financing needed to stay open.

Charter schools siphon money from authentic public schools serving the neediest students creating a deficit spiral. Money gushes out of public districts which have to cut teachers and programs to patch budget gaps which in turn result in even more parents pulling their children out of the public schools and trying to enroll them in charters.

Though the legislature used to help authentic public schools by reimbursing them for 30% of the charter school costs, that funding has been eliminated.

Meanwhile, the charter school law has barely changed at all since it was enacted in 1997.

Gov. Tom Wolf has promised to correct that with sweeping reforms in 2020 – even if it means bypassing the gerrymandered and gridlocked legislature with executive orders.

But before he can begin, he needs to hear from commonwealth voters.

 

 

 

The York Dispatch, a newspaper in a district that has been targeted for state intervention, blasted the state with a scathing editorial. 

I hope the editorial board will forgive me for reprinting it in full. “Financial recovery” has not helped any district; it is a disaster for the students, teachers, and schools. It accomplishes nothing but disruption.

The vultures are circling, and York City School District officials would be wise to take notice.

York City is among four Pennsylvania districts placed in state-mandated financial recovery in 2012 under a new law proponents said would finally hold to account school districts that have failed taxpayers and students alike.

York City schools clearly earned the dubious designation, one it will keep after state officials in August denied the district’s request to be removed from recovery.

Its graduation rates are among the lowest in the state — among, unsurprisingly, its peers also listed on the state’s initial list of underperformers: Harrisburg, Chester Upland and Duquesne. Its financial condition has been a dumpster fire for years.

And, all the while, York City property owners never get a whiff of tax relief. 

More: Graduation rates plunged in districts under financial recovery

But one can’t help but wonder if the past few months were a harbinger of things to come for York City. And, if that’s true, the district should gird itself against an onslaught of special interests and right-wing politicians conspiring to undermine the very idea of public education itself.

The war in Harrisburg School District has been ugly for months. This past summer, the school board revolted against the state, denying state officials access to documents and information. Soon after, much of its leadership was sacked when the state took control of its operations and the state-appointed receiver hired an outside agency for most non-educational operations.

But it got worse. 

This past month, state House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny County, rolled out legislation that would create a voucher program specifically in Harrisburg School District. The move would immediately bleed $5 million from the district’s budget just to pay for students already enrolled in private schools. And that number would only increase as more parents are paid to send their children elsewhere.

Turzia’s bill would, seemingly by design, cripple Harrisburg’s school district and potentially render it unsalvageable.

On Wednesday, officials from Chester Upland’s school district went to court fighting for their district’s survival. They are faced off against Chester Community Charter School, which is looking to seize control of all elementary education, a move that would no doubt hammer the struggling public district’s finances even more.

More: State places York City schools in financial recovery

It’s no secret that Republicans and private interests are working throughout the country to privatize education. 

But education remains a public responsibility, one that benefits society at its very core.

Sure, elderly taxpayers grumble about ever-increasing taxes. Schools in poor, minority communities struggle financially and academically. And lawmakers lack the seriousness to address the systematic failings of a property tax-based system that creates haves and have nots.

But the “school choice” red herring only serves to line investors’ pockets and rob taxpayers of accountability. And, judging by recent history, the enemies of public education are targeting Pennsylvania’s weakest districts first. 

York City School District be warned. 

 

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.