Archives for category: Pennsylvania

David Lapp, director of policy research for Research for Action in Philadelphia, recently wrote about the money wasted on Cybercharters in Pennsylvania. Apparently, the industry has a strong hold on the Pennsylvania legislature. There is no other reason that it continues to thrive.

During the worst of the pandemic, schools closed for reasons of safety and caution. Cybercharters boomed to fill the gap. But with physical schools open, the truth must be told about Cybercharters: they are a poor substitute for real schools.

Lapp writes:

When the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools into remote learning instruction many Pennsylvania policymakers expressed deep concerns. Many lamented the impact on mental health when students stopped receiving in-person learning and the important social skills that develops. Many were upset by the evidence of significant learning loss that accompanied the switch to virtual instruction.

The Pennsylvania General Assembly even enacted a new law allowing students to voluntarily repeat a grade to make up for lost educational opportunities.

This year policymakers should consider bringing that same energy to a similarly harmful and even more wasteful form of remote learning. One that’s been growing for more than two decades and reached a boiling point during the pandemic. I’m talking about the soaring enrollment growth and accompanying financial cost of Pennsylvania’s cyber-charter school expansion.

There’s solid research both nationally and in Pennsylvania that cyber-charter schools have an “overwhelmingly negative” impact on student learning. The learning loss students experience from virtual instruction in cyber-charter schools appears similar to the learning loss students experienced from virtual instruction during the pandemic.

For each year a student is enrolled in cyber-charter school they are also more likely to experience chronic absenteeism and less like to enroll in post-secondary education.

There’s also clear evidence that spending on cyber-charter school expansion comes at the expense of students receiving in-person learning in school districts and brick & mortar charter schools, where more effective instruction is provided. In fact school districts—which pay for cyber-charter tuition from their own school budgets—have indicated that charter tuition is now their top budget pressure.

It’s easy to understand why. Pennsylvania already had the highest cyber-charter school enrollment in the country and then enrollment grew by 22,618 additional students during the pandemic. Districts are now spending over $1 billion dollars a year on cyber-charter tuition, reflecting an increase of $335 million from before the pandemic. These surging expenses impacted the vast majority of school districts in the state.

Cyber-charter tuition likely represents the most inefficient spending in Pennsylvania school finance. For one, the cyber-charter system is redundant. Both before and since the pandemic, most school districts continue to offer their own virtual schools. Secondly, the tuition rates mandated under current PA law require districts to pay cyber-charters more than it actually costs to operate virtual schools. And finally, when students leave for cyber-charter schools, districts must of course still operate their own brick & mortar schools for remaining students, only now with fewer resources….

In Research for Action’s recent report, The Negative Fiscal Impact of Cyber Charter Enrollment Due to COVID-19, we estimated that the tuition increase in just one year of the pandemic, from the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years, led to between $290 to $308 million of additional stranded costs borne by school districts. Nearly the entire amount of increases in school district total expenditures statewide in 2020-21 were accounted for by increases in school district tuition payments to charter schools, most of which were for cyber-charters specifically.

Meanwhile, this tuition spike has left cyber-charters in Pennsylvania flush with surplus resources. More than half of the additional funding cyber-charters received from districts in 2020-21 was not even used for student expenses. Rather, cyber- charters funneled over $170 million into their general fund balances that, unlike school districts, have no statutory limits.

Steven Singer asks a reasonable question: Why is a Gates-Funded, anti-union, pro-charter advocacy group part of Pennsylvania’s effort to end the teacher shortage?

That would be TeachPlus.

Singer begins:

So Pennsylvania has unveiled a new plan to stop the exodus with the help of an organization pushing the same policies that made teaching undesirable in the first place.

The state’s Department of Education (PDE) announced its plan to stop the state’s teacher exodus today.

One of the four people introducing the plan at the Harrisburg press conference was Laura Boyce, Pennsylvania executive director of Teach Plus.

Why is this surprising?

Teach Plus is a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that works to select and train teachers to push its political agenda.

What is that agenda?

Teach Plus has embraced the practice of widespread staff firings as a strategy for school improvement.

Teach Plus mandates that test scores be a significant part of teacher evaluation.

Teach Plus advocates against seniority and claims that unions stifle innovation.

Teach Plus has received more than $27 million from the Gates Foundation and substantial donations from the Walton Family Foundation.

How can an organization dedicated to the same ideas that prompted the exodus turn around and stop the evacuation!?

That’s like hiring a pyromaniac as a fire fighter!

Read on.

A former Republican State Senator and the former State Auditor, a Democrat, wrote to argue on behalf of reforming the charter school law.

Bernie O’Neill (R-29, Bucks) is a former special education teacher for more than 25 years and a 16-year former member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.

Eugene DePasquale is former Auditor General of Pennsylvania and former member of the state General Assembly, (D-95, York). He presently serves as a Resident for the Keystone Center for Charter Change at the Pennsylvania School Boards Association.

They wrote:

Our roles as former elected officials from both of the major political parties have given us unique perspectives into not only Pennsylvania’s political process, but also its public education system, particularly charter schools.

Charter schools in the state have grown tremendously in the 24+ years in which they have existed. It is estimated that nearly 170,000 children will attend a brick and mortar or cyber charter school in the current school year and that Pennsylvania taxpayers will spend an estimated $3 billion to fund charter schools.

Despite being in operation for more than two decades, Pennsylvania’s Charter School Law (CSL) has never undergone any significant revision, other than allowing the creation of cyber charter schools in 2002, even though there are numerous glaring problems with the law. That’s not because the General Assembly hasn’t studied and introduced a myriad of legislative proposals each year to enact meaningful reforms. However, the state’s legislative body seems to be unwilling or unable to fix the problems.

Reforming the CSL should be a bipartisan issue. At its core, charter school reform would 1) ensure that public education funds are spent efficiently and appropriately; 2) that charter schools are as accountable and transparent as other public schools; and 3) preserve and strengthen educational choice by bolstering the law to ensure only quality charter school options are available to students and families.

Choice in public education is well-established in Pennsylvania. However, the status quo results in taxpayers sending hundreds of millions of public education dollars more than what charter schools need to provide an education. This is especially true for cyber charter schools, which do not maintain a physical school building and for all charter schools when it comes to well-documented overpayments for special education services. There’s a word for this type of spending – wasteful. And residents across the state feel the impact of these overpayments when their local school districts are forced to raise property taxes because of these costs.

Charter schools are supposed to be public schools. However, the boards that operate charter schools are not elected and are not required to include any representation from the community which they serve. Further, charter schools can contract with for-profit companies to run virtually all operations of the school. Once a charter school enters into one of these contracts, the public loses the ability to see how their money is being spent.

For years, proficiency on state assessments and graduations rates at charter schools have, on average, been substantially lower than those of traditional local public schools. While there are many high-performing charter schools, the current CSL makes it very difficult to close poor performers. Look no further than the fact that every cyber charter school has been identified by the state Department of Education as being in need of improvement for many years.

The bottom line is this: we owe it to our children and to the taxpayers to make sure that we are doing everything possible so that students are getting the best education available and that we are getting the best return on investment for our tax dollars. That’s something that all legislators should be able to support no matter which side of the aisle they’re on.

It is time to end the paralysis in Harrisburg, stop the practice of passing off charter school expansion proposals that fail to address serious funding flaws and contain little accountability as real reform, and finally work in a bipartisan manner to fix the law.

Steven Rosenfeld runs a project for the Independent Media Institute called “Voting Booth.” His posts are informative. This one reviews the Republican primary for Governor in Pennsylvania, where all the candidates swear fealty to Trump and the Big Lie.

He writes:

Another extreme wing of the Republican Party is emerging, and it’s not all Trump.

J.D. Vance, the Ohioan who grew up poor, joined the Marines, got a Yale law degree, wrote a bestseller about his hardscrabble upbringing, became a venture capitalist, and panned Donald Trump before becoming a convert to Trumpism and winning Ohio’s GOP primary for U.S. Senate, is one brand of 2022’s Republican candidates—a shapeshifter, as the New York Times’ conservative columnist Bret Stephens noted.

“He’s just another example of an increasingly common type: the opportunistic, self-abasing, intellectually dishonest, morally situational former NeverTrumper who saw Trump for exactly what he was until he won and then traded principles and clarity for a shot at gaining power,” Stephens said in a conversation with New York Times liberal columnist Gail Collins that was published on May 9.

But the GOP’s frontrunner for governor in Pennsylvania’s crowded May 17 primary field, state Sen. Doug Mastriano, is an entirely different Republican: a man of deep religious and political convictions who, if he wins the nomination and the general election, could be problematic for Americans who do not want elected officials to impose their personal beliefs on the wider public, whether the topic is abortion, vaccines, denying election results, or calling on God’s help to seize political power.

Mastriano’s current lead among nine candidates, with nearly 28 percent, could be taken two ways. He could be an extremist, like Trump in 2016, who won because too many contenders split the mainstream vote in a low-turnout primary. (In 2018, less than one-fifth of Pennsylvania’s voters turned out—suggesting that 2022’s winner may be nominated by as little as 5 percent of its state electorate.) Or, if Pennsylvania’s GOP were more firmly in control of its nomination process, Mastriano’s support might pale next to the establishment’s pick.

It remains to be seen if voters’ allegiances will shift as May 17approaches, especially as the Democrats’ likely nominee, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, has signaled that Mastriano is the Republican he would most like to run against in the general election by launching TV attack ads. Centrist Republicans also are attacking Mastriano, but the Philadelphia Inquirer reports it’s not working.

Mastriano’s prospects, and his chances in the upcoming general election in the fall as another breed of 2022’s GOP mavericks, suggest that wider currents are roiling American politics, including, in this national battleground state, a mainstreaming of white Christian nativism.

Mastriano is a retired Army military intelligence officer and Army War College historian (whose error-filled 2014 biography of a World War I heroic Christian soldier embarrassedits university press). In uniform, he served overseas in Eastern Europe, Kuwait, Iraq, and Afghanistan. His career in elected office started in a predictable rightward fashion: proposing a bill to ban abortion. But after 2020’s election, he emerged from local ranks as an early and fervent member of Trump’s “Stop the Steal” cavalry who sought to subvert the certification of its winner, Pennsylvania native Joe Biden, who officially beat Trump by 80,000 votes.

Mastriano invited Big Lie propagandist Rudy Giuliani and others to legislative hearings. On January 6, 2021, he bussed Trump supporters to the U.S. Capitol, and newly surfaced videosshow that he followed them past police barriers. He opposed COVID-19 mandates, and in mid-2021 started calling for an Arizona-style “audit” of the state’s 2020 presidential election results. But unlike Arizona’s effort, led by the Cyber Ninjas’ Doug Logan, another deeply observant but more private Christian, Mastriano is vocal about how much his religion influences his politics.

A New Yorker profile by Eliza Griswold on May 9 characterizes Mastriano as a white Christian nationalist—a term he rejects—who, before the January 6 Capitol riot, “exhorted his followers to ‘do what George Washington asked us to do in 1775. Appeal to Heaven. Pray to God. We need an intervention.’”

On the 2020 election denial front, Mastriano is not alone. Although he was leading in a crowded field, there are other candidates for governor who have been falsely proclaiming that Democrats stole their state’s 2020 election and the presidency, and even forged Electoral College documents sent to Washington, D.C.

“If you thought Donald Trump’s endorsement of Dr. Mehmet Oz for Senate was the worst development in Pennsylvania’s 2022 GOP primaries, wait until you hear about the Republicans running for governor,” wrote Amanda Carpenter, a political columnist for the Bulwark, an anti-Trump Republican news and opinion website.

“They’re all election conspiracists.” she continued. “The only thing differentiating them is how far down the rabbit hole they go. And, there’s an excellent chance the nuttiest bunny of them all, Doug Mastriano, is going to win the primary.”

But Mastriano is not a mere Trump imitator. He is cut from an older, more gothic American political cloth: mixing a nativist piety, conspiratorial mindset, and authoritarian reflexes. The Philadelphia Inquirer characterized his unbending religiosity as belonging to the “charismatic strand of Christianity.” The New Yorker’s Griswold concluded that “Mastriano’s rise embodies the spread of a movement centered on the belief that God intended America to be a Christian nation.”

This political type is not new, wrote Kevin Phillips, a former Republican strategist and historian, in 2006 in American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century, which detailed how George W. Bush’s evangelism tainted his presidency. However, Mastriano’s ascension, coupled with a Trump-fortified U.S. Supreme Court that’s poised to void a woman’s right to abortion, affirms today’s reemergence of a radical right.

“Christianity in the United States, especially Protestantism, has always had an evangelical—which is to say, missionary—and frequently a radical or combative streak,” wrote Phillips. “Some message has always had to be preached, punched, or proselytized.”

Add in Mastriano’s embrace of Trumpian authoritarianism, and the Keystone State’s leading GOP candidate for governor is proudly part of this pantheon. As the Inquirer wroteon May 4, he “often invokes Esther, the biblical Jewish queen who saved her people from slaughter by Persians, casting himself and his followers as God’s chosen people who have arrived at a crossroads—and who must now defend their country, their very lives.”

“It is the season of Purim,” Mastriano said, according to the paper’s report of a “March [campaign] event in Lancaster, referring to the Jewish holiday celebrated in the Book of Esther.” The gubernatorial candidate continued, “And God has turned the tables on the Democrats and those who stand against what is good in America. It’s true.”

A Heavy Hand?

It’s hardly new for Republicans to demonize Democrats. But under Trump, the enemies list has grown to include not just the media (Mastriano has barred reporters from rallies and abruptly ended interviews), but America’s “secular democracy” (as Kristin Kobes Du Mez, a professor of history at Calvin University and the author of Jesus and John Wayne, put it in Griswold’s piece for the New Yorker). This targeting includes the government civil servants who administer elections and the technology used to cast and count votes.

When it comes to election administration, if elected governor, Mastriano gets to appoint the secretary of state, the state’s top election regulator. He also has pledged to sign legislation to curtail voting with mailed-out ballots, which was how 2.6 million Pennsylvanians—about 38 percent of voters, including nearly 600,000 Trump voters—cast 2020’s presidential ballots. (As of May 10, nearly 900,000 voters had applied for a mailed-out ballot for 2022’s primary.) Such a policy shift, if enacted, would deeply inconvenience, if not discourage, voter turnout.

Mastriano, if elected, could also play an outsized role should the presidency in 2024 hinge on Pennsylvania’s 19 presidential electors. In the wake of the 2020 election, as Trump and his allies filed and lost more than 60 election challenge suits, one of their arguments was the U.S. Constitution decrees that state legislatures set the “time, place and manner” of elections. That authority could include rejecting the popular vote in presidential elections and appointing an Electoral College slate favoring the candidate backed by a legislative majority, which, in Pennsylvania, has been Republican since 2011’s extreme gerrymander.

Pennsylvania has been at the forefront of recent litigation over this power grab, the so-called “independent state legislature doctrine.” If elected governor, Mastriano could hasten a constitutional crisis, because under the Electoral Count Act of 1887, which was designed to say how competing slates of presidential electors are to be resolved, the governor—not the state legislature—has the final say, according to Edward B. Foley, a widely respected election law scholar.

“A key provision of the act says that if the [U.S.] House and Senate are split [on ratifying a state’s Electoral College slate], the governor of the state in dispute becomes the tiebreaker,” Foley wrote in 2016, when scholars were gaming post-Election Day scenarios in Trump’s race against Hillary Clinton. While speculating about 2024 is premature, there’s some precedent to heed.

After the 2020 election, 84 people in seven battleground states that Biden won, including Pennsylvania, sent listsof unauthorized Trump electors to the National Archives in Washington. Two of Mastriano’s primary opponents, ex-congressman Lou Barletta and Charlie Gerow, signed the fake Electoral College slates. Mastriano, however, did not.

With days to go before the primary, Josh Shapiro, the Democrats’ likely nominee for governor (he is running unopposed in the party primary) is already running anti-Mastriano TV ads seeking to tie the Republican candidate to Trump. (Incumbent Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, faces term limits and cannot seek reelection.) Shapiro’s strategy to elevate Mastriano is “dangerous,” according to Inquirer columnist Will Bunch, as it affirms Mastriano’s credentials to voters and could backfire in the fall—in a replay of Trump’s 2016 victory in the state.

“A Gov. Mastriano, Shapiro’s new TV spot says, would effectively ban abortion in the Keystone State and, the narrator continues, ‘he led the fight to audit the 2020 election,’” Bunch wroteon May 8. “‘If Mastriano wins, it’s a win for what Donald Trump stands for.’ Cue the Satanic music, maybe the only clue that the Shapiro campaign thinks these are bad things. The commercial’s closing pitch: ‘Is that what we want in Pennsylvania?’”

“The answer, for far too many people in a state where the wife-cheating, private-part-grabbing xenophobe won by 44,292 votes in 2016, would, unfortunately, be ‘yes.’”

But a Mastriano primary victory would be more than the latest affirmation of the ex-president’s sway over swaths of today’s GOP. It heralds the rise of “radicalized religion,” as Phillips wrote in American Theocracyabout fundamentalists and George W. Bush’s presidency, merged with more recent Trumpian authoritarianism.

“Few questions will be more important to the 21st-century United States than whether renascent religion and its accompanying political hubris will be carried on the nation’s books as an asset or as a liability,” Phillips wrote. “While sermons and rhetoric propounding American exceptionalism proclaim religiosity an asset, a sober array of historical precedents—the pitfalls of imperial Christian overreach from Rome to Britain—tip the scales toward liability.”

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a projectof the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, the American Prospect, and many others.

Voting Booth is a project of the Independent Media Institute.

For the first time in 25 years, Pennsylvania officials imposed new regulations on charter schools. Charter advocates were not happy, nor were the Republicans who control the legislature.

Pennsylvania’s charter schools may be required to follow certain accounting and audit standards, comply with state ethics requirements, and post enrollment policies on their websites under new rules opposed by charter advocates and Republican lawmakers.

The rules, passed by the state’s Independent Regulatory Review Commission on Monday in a 3-2 vote, were proposed by Gov. Tom Wolf as part of a broader effort to overhaul how charters are regulated and funded — a perennially contentious issue in the education world. Charters, which educate 170,000 students across Pennsylvania, including one-third of all Philadelphia public school students, are paid by school districts based on enrollment….

Mastery Schools, Philadelphia’s largest charter network, said in written comments submitted to the commission that the regulations “threaten the very existence of the public charter schools that have been transformative to our children’s lives.”

The same regulations that public schools must follow are somehow a mortal threat to charters.

Cyber charters in Pennsylvania are a money pit because they are not subject to the same rules as public schools. Charter lobbyists must have written the charter laws as they have in other states. And they protect their freedom from scrutiny despite the fact that the founder of the first and biggest cyber charter operator in the state was sentenced to prison in 2018 for his failure to pay taxes on $8 million that he skimmed from the school’s funds. (Note that he was not jailed for embezzling funds but for not paying taxes on the money.)

Peter Greene discovered another way that the state’s cyber charters get favored treatment. Public schools are not allowed to sit on millions of dollars of rainy day funds. Cyber charters are.

I remember what charter advocates promised back in the late 1980s when the idea of charters was first being sold. Charters would be more “accountable” than regular public schools.

But now we know:

Accountability is for public schools, not for charter schools.

A wave of labor activism is underway. Amazon workers in Staten Island in New York City are trying to organizing a union. Bloomberg News reports:

Deere & Co. employees, who launched a 10,000-person strike Oct. 14, cited the mandatory overtime that can stretch their shifts to 12 hours. At Kellogg Co., the union went on strike this month after decrying the toll of seven-day workweeks that had kept cereal flowing to stuck-at-home customers during the pandemic. And at Frito-Lay Inc., workers have this year challenged what they called“suicide shifts”: being made to leave late and return early, with only eight hours of turnaround time in between.

Scranton teachers announced their decision to strike on November 3.

SCRANTON, Pa.—The Scranton Federation of Teachers, which represents more than 800 teachers and paraprofessionals, announced today that it will set up picket lines and go on strike at 12:01 a.m., Nov. 3. The union has been working under a contract that expired in 2017.

“We’ve reached the end of the line and our patience with the Scranton School District. The district has refused to address our concerns about the slash-and-burn budget cuts that are significantly affecting the quality of education,” said Scranton Federation of Teachers President Rosemary Boland. “Strikes are always the last resort. We held off for many months, hoping, in vain, we could agree on conditions that are good for kids and provide decency, fairness, respect and trust for our educators.”

Boland expressed optimism that new members will be elected to the Scranton School Board on Nov. 2 and that the needs of students and educators finally will be prioritized.

SFT gave the district more than the required 48 hours’ notice before starting a strike. Picket lines will begin early Wednesday morning on Nov. 3 at most schools.

Teachers and paraprofessionals want realistic solutions to reversing the teacher turnover crisis; raising educator pay that has been frozen since 2016; returning Scranton’s esteemed and essential preschool program; and restoring libraries, bus routes and electives such as consumer[LBC1] science and music.

The austerity budget that is starving Scranton classrooms of the necessary resources, coupled with the administration’s disrespect for teachers, are issues reminiscent of what led to the walkouts in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona, Colorado and Chicago in 2018 and 2019, SFT said.

“Teachers and paraprofessionals don’t want to walk out, but they will when their students’ needs are ignored and schools are starved of resources,” Boland said.

Scranton public schools are operating under a state Recovery Plan, which is akin to a state takeover.

“The Recovery Plan prioritizes financial recovery over student achievement, balancing the budget on the backs of students. Yet the plan has not been amended to factor in the $60 million in federal aid that should be used to stabilize the district and pay teachers decent, competitive wages,” she said, noting that the Recovery Plan originally factored in the use of “windfall funds,” such as federal aid when defining “recovery.”

“Since the recovery plan began in 2019, more than 100 teachers and paras have left the district, demonstrating a serious recruitment and retention problem that has harmful ramifications for students,” she said. Classes are severely overcrowded. Special education students are not being served adequately because teachers are pulled into other classrooms. Students aren’t getting individualized attention. In the COVID-19 environment, overcrowded classrooms pose a health hazard.

Boland said teachers and paraprofessionals deserve a pay raise. Teachers have not received a raise for more than four years, which has prompted many of the teacher defections to other school districts. Several paraprofessionals were furloughed, only to be brought back at a lower salary after public outrage. The district also is insistent on an inferior health scheme that would directly impact the Scranton community, as they are still dealing with the impact of COVID-19, the union said.

“It’s time for a contract that’s good for students and fair to educators,” Boland said.

The Central York school board banned a long list of books and videos about race, racism, and diversity. Days ago, responding to protests by students, parents, and teachers, the board voted unanimously to lift the ban.

This censorship is in keeping with the current effort by Republicans to label teaching about racism to be teaching “critical race theory” that makes white students feel guilty and uncomfortable.

A Pennsylvania school district that had banned a list of anti-racism books and educational resources by or about people of color — including children’s titles about Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. — reversed its nearly year-long decision this week after backlash and protests from students, parents and educators in the community.


The Central York School District had implemented “a freeze” last fall on a lengthy list of books and educational resources that focused almost entirely on titles related to people of color. The school district claimed the books on race and social justice, which some in the southern Pennsylvania community hoped would help bolster the educational curriculum following George Floyd’s murder and the racial-justice protests of 2020, were frozen, not banned, after some parents raised concerns about the materials.


The school board announced Monday it had voted unanimously to reinstate access to the books, district spokeswoman Julie Randall Romig confirmed to The Washington Post.


Jane Johnson, president of the school board, said in a statement that the review of the anti-racist materials had “taken far too long.” The all-White school board had taken months to vet books and materials such as children’s titles on Parks and King, education activist Malala Yousafzai’s autobiography, the Oscar-nominated PBS documentary “I Am Not Your Negro” about writer James Baldwin and CNN’s “Sesame Street” town hall on racism.


Johnson previously noted that some parents in the district “believe that rather than uniting on diversity, certain resources polarize and divide on diversity and are based on disputed theories and facts…”

Students at Central York High School had denounced and protested the ban, saying their “thoughts are being invalidated.” Students organized demonstrations over consecutive days this month in response to the district’s inaction toward reversing the ban…

In November, the school board “unanimously approved a decision to freeze the use of these resources” pending a review, Johnson said.
A Twitter account named Central York Banned Book Club compiled a lengthy list of every book and resource that had been prohibited by the district. “The copy is tiny because the list is massive,” the account tweeted Sunday. @cybannedbooks

Lisa Haver, parent activist in Philadelphia, was thrilled when the state relinquished control of the school board in 2018. Now Philadelphia has mayoral control of its schools. Haver soon discovered that the appointed school board is not interested in parent engagement and shuts parent voices down.

She wrote in The Philadelphia Inquirer:

Just weeks into the new school year, Philadelphia school communities find themselves already dealing with chaos. Parents, students, and school staff, many navigating toxic flood waters after a devastating storm, were not notified of the district’s decision to open schools late until two hours after the first bell.

Students at several district schools had to avoid mountains of trash left in schoolyardson their first day back.

The district has revised bell schedules and school calendars with a stunning disregard for the needs of parents.

In June, when the Inquirer Editorial Board asked City Councilmembers what their priorities would be for their 2021-22 session, education was barely mentioned — not even by the Chair of Council’s Education Committee.

Another recent editorial lamented the erosion of trust between Councilmembers’ constituents and city institutions including those between the school community and the Board of Education that “have been exacerbated during the pandemic which Council could ameliorate by finding ways to navigate and, hopefully, reduce.”

But that doesn’t seem to be a concern for councilmembers. Some have joined protests at schools where teachers refused to enter toxic buildings. But other than one letter signed by a handful of councilmembers sent last February, Council has been largely silent on the silencing of their constituents by the board.

Haver points out that neither Superintendent William Hite nor his staff was held accountable for the fiasco at Benjamin Franklin High School, when two schools merged. Construction costs soared from $10 million to over $50 million. Students and staff were forced to endure an unsafe learning environment while construction proceeded. Accountability for multiple failures? None.

Nor did anyone on the board respond when the district’s principals endorsed a vote of no confidence in Superintendent Hite for his lack of leadership during the pandemic.

Mayoral control enables the silencing of parent voices.

Peter Greene describes the shocked reaction of charter operators when Governor Tom Wolf proposed that they be regularly audited and that their payments should be aligned with 5heir services. Pennsylvania has a funding formula that is heavily tilted to favor the charter industry. Their lobbyists want to keep it that way.

In his 2020 budget speech, Wolf tried to soothe the industry and thread the needle, saying that Pennsylvania students should get a great education “whether in a traditional public school or a charter school” an noting that “Pennsylvania has a history of school choice, which I support.” But he also said that some charter schools are “little more than fronts for private management companies, and the only innovations they’re coming up with involve finding new ways to take money out of the pockets of property taxpayers.”

The 2021 budget has several features to tighten up Pennsylvania’s exceptionally loose charter industry. 

Pennsylvania’s 14 cyber charters will be audited. “Wait,” you say. “the cyber charters aren’t audited?” The answer is “barely;” six of the charters have never been audited at all, and the largest cyber charter in the state, Commonwealth Charter Academy, was last audited in 2012. 

The proposal also targets cyber charter funding, one of the deeply nonsensical features of the Pennsylvania charter landscape. Cybers get 100% of the same payment as a brick and mortar charter school–even though they have no bricks, no mortar, and none of the other expenses of an actual school building. Consequently, cyber schools in PA are making money hand over fist, and taxpayer dollars go to things like advertising ($1,000 per student recruited at one charter) and, no kidding, a cool robot dog. The governor proposes to set a statewide cyber tuition rate that is still mighty generous. The state’s in-house online education program costs about $5,400 per student per year, and the governor proposes a set $9,500 tuition rate.

The proposal also looks to fix the charter reimbursement rate for special ed. Currently, a charter gets the same high payment rate for all special ed students, whether they need a full-time aid and extensive specialized supports, or they just need a few adaptations in a regular classroom. That has made students with special needs into cash cows in PA. This is extra nuts because PAS actually has a tiered system for rating special needs–it just isn’t used when paying charters. The governor’s proposal is that charters should be paid an amount in line with the actual costs of educating the students.

The governor also proposes more oversight and accountability for the Education Improvement Tax Credit and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit, Pennsylvania’s two tax credit scholarship (aka voucher) programs.

Wolf also plans to address Pennsylvania’s funding inequities, among the very worst in the nation, with a nearly $2 billion increase in school spending. So charters get less, and public schools get more (including getting to keep more of the public tax dollars they used to have to hand over to charters).

None of this is a hit with the school choice crowd. It’s a little nuts, really, because the governor’s proposal boils down to “Pay the charters what it actually costs to educate the students instead of paying them what it costs to educate the students PLUS a big fat taxpayer-funded bonus.” It’s an exceptionally not-very-radical proposal.

But the pushback is already coming, because GOP leaders in the House and Senate are already prepped and ready to join the national push for more choiciness