Archives for category: Philadelphia

Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools

 

June 5, 2019

For immediate release: Statement of APPS Re CREDO study

 

The CREDO study released today presents more evidence that the charter experiment foisted upon the state’s children has been a resounding failure, especially considering the enormous amount of taxpayer dollars that have been spent on charter schools.  

 

For many reasons, comparing charters to district schools is not an apples-to-apples exercise. Charter schools receive outside funding from private donors, including significant amounts every year from the Philadelphia School Partnership.  PSP identifies as a non-profit funder of schools, but they have been strong financial and political advocates for privatization and charter expansion. The bulk of their corporate funding goes to non-district schools. 

 

Charter schools have been cited over the years for unfair practices such as presenting barriers to enrollment, failure to inform students and parents of their due process rights when facing disciplinary action, and expelling students for trivial offenses including being out of uniform and lateness.  Thus, many charters are able to exclude students with special needs, both behavioral and academic.  

Studies done by both Philadelphia City Controller’s Office and the State Attorney General’s Office have documented fraud and questionable spending in some of the city’s largest charter organizations.   Organizations including PCCY and the Education 

Law Center have conducted in-depth studies that show charters do not outperform district schools in most categories. ELC’s recent report shows: 1) the population of economically disadvantaged students is much lower in Philadelphia’s charter schools—70% in the District, 56% in charters; 2) the percentage of English learners is nearly three times higher—11% in District, 4% in charters; 3) few of the special education students in the traditional charters are from the low-incidence disability categories, such as autism and intellectual disability, that are most expensive to serve.

The diversion of public funds to privately managed charters has made it more difficult for public schools to fund essential programs, but public schools still manage to outperform charters in most categories.  Lack of oversight, both on the state and local level, has resulted in a lack of accountability in the charter sector. 

The CREDO study confirms that the claim of charter investors and operators that charter schools are a better choice has never been true.  Harrisburg must reform the PA Charter Law so that the voters in each district can have the means to fully fund and strengthen their public school systems.

This is a terrific documentary, created by professional filmmakers at Stone Lantern Films. It will be shown in Spanish and in English. If you want to show the documentary in your community, contact the filmmakers by email, listed below.

MEDIA ALERT

____________________________________________________________________________________

THE UNITED FEDERATION OF TEACHERS HOSTS SPECIAL SCREENING OF THE ACCLAIMED DOCUMENTARY “BACKPACK FULL OF CASH”

EXPLORING THE REAL COST OF PRIVATIZING AMERICA’S PUBLIC SCHOOLS

Narrated by Academy Award-winning actor, Matt Damon

BACKPACK has screened over 360 times in 39 states and nine countries

— including nine film festivals

WHO: Sarah Mondale and Vera Aronow, BACKPACK filmmakers; Nicholas Cruz, United Federation of Teachers; James Rodriguez, College Goal New York Coordinator; NYC teachers; parents of NYC students; NYC students; members of the community

WHAT:  The United Federation of Teachers will host a special screening, in English and Spanish, of the acclaimed documentary BACKPACK FULL OF CASH.  As the next election season kicks into high gear, education is at the forefront and BACKPACK is serving as a powerful tool to inform parents, teachers and community members about the reality of market-based education “reform,” and its impact on American public schools and the 50 million students who rely on them.  BACKPACK was made by the team that produced the award-winning PBS series, SCHOOL: The Story of American Public Education.  The Bronx event will be free for members of the community.  

Public RSVP at: https://uft.wufoo.com/forms/qqwn5z81x5qcqo/

WHERE: ​​UFT Bronx Learning Center, 2500 Halsey Street, The Bronx, NY 10461

WHEN: ​​Tuesday, June 11, 2019

             ​​Press Call: 4:00

PRESS RSVP:  Natalie Maniscalco / Retro Media

                           Natalie@retromedianyc.com / 845.659.6506

For more information about the film, upcoming screenings, downloadable photos, trailer and other resources, please visit http://www.BackpackFullofCash.com

Official Website: http://www.BackpackFullofCash.com

Email: info@backpackfullofcash.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/backpackfullofcash/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/backpackthefilm

Instagram: @backpackthefilm\

To Register for screening:

https://uft.wufoo.com/forms/qqwn5z81x5qcqo/

 

Jan Resseger does not title her post “The Futility of School Closings.” She calls it “Considering School Closures as Philadelphia’s Empty Germantown High School Faces Sheriff’s Sale.” I inserted “futility,” because that is what I see as I read the books and studies she cites.

I am persuaded by books like Eve Ewing’s Ghosts in the Schoolyard (Chicago) and by Shani Robinson’s None of the Above (Atlanta) that the primary purpose of school closings is to gentrify low-income neighborhoods, push out poor black people, and open charters to lure white middle-class families. Chicago lost 200,000 black people from 2000 to 2016. Coincidence?

Read Jan’s great post and see what you think.

 

City leaders in Philadelphia, as in Chicago and other cities, have decided to sell off or give away some of their most beautiful and historic school buildings.

In Philly, the school district closed Germantown, one of the city’s elegant buildings, on the eve of its 100th birthday, in 2013.

After months of neglect and thousands of dollars of unpaid taxes, the historic pillared building at 40 E. High St., as well as an elementary school sold that year, is going up for sale again.

“After the schools were closed, the city had a responsibility to ensure efficient disposal and redevelopment of these properties,” said Emaleigh Doley, an organizer for the Germantown United Community Development Corp. “How is it possible that today, Germantown High School is up for sheriff sale, and both the high school and Fulton Elementary School sit vacant?”

In fall 2012, the Philadelphia School Reform Commission voted to close 23 schools to save money. Months later, buildings that once welcomed thousands of students were emptied, shuttered, and sold.

Some were revitalized as charter schools. Roberts Vaux High School became Vaux Big Picture; Stephen A. Douglas became Maritime Academy. Some were redeveloped into neighborhood mixed-use spaces like University City, or community and commercial centers like Edward Bok Technical.

Others, like Germantown, weren’t so fortunate….

In September 2013, the Maryland-based Concordia Group began negotiations to purchase Germantown High, as well as nearby Fulton and three other shuttered school buildings: Charles Carroll High School in Port Richmond, and South Philly elementary schools Walter G. Smith and Abigail Vare.

The schools were packaged for quick sale, but the purchase agreement shows that they sold for widely varying amounts: Vare and Carroll for a little less than half their assessed value; Smith for nearly twice its market assessment; and Fulton for one-tenth. Germantown was the lowest-priced of all five schools at $100,000 — a far cry from the value of $11 million listed by the city’s Office of Property Assessment.

Then, another twist. Before the sale could be completed, a group of Point Breeze community members filed a lawsuit in Commonwealth Court opposing the closure of Smith and saying the schools were being sold below value. The deal came to a halt.

In 2017, after an appeal from the School District, the court approved the sale of the five schools. But the Concordia Group no longer seemed so sure. It flipped Smith to Philadelphia developer Ori Feibush, who was building in Point Breeze. Carroll is in development under Philadelphia-based developer High Top, while Vare is still listed as an active project under Concordia

The Department of Licenses and Inspections has tracked 15 violations for vacancy, weeds, and trash at the Germantown High address. And property taxes haven’t been paid since the 2017 purchase. The high school is listed as on four lots, according to city records; combined, that’s $595,306.93 in overdue taxes. Fulton, just across the street, is on two lots and has racked up just under $250,000 in back taxes.

“It definitely affected the community,” said State Rep. Stephen Kinsey, a Democrat who represents the neighborhood and graduated from Germantown High. “Two or three businesses closed as a direct result of the lack of traffic. There was more illegal activity around the school, more police on the driveway.… To have a vacant building of that magnitude for six years, that changes the whole neighborhood….”

In March, Philadelphia-based real estate broker MSC Retail released a brochure that disclosed plans to replace the Germantown High school building with two large stores and 68 parking spots. Residents were shocked and outraged. Germantown United CDC and activist interfaith group POWER called an emergency community meeting.

City Councilwoman Cindy Bass, who represents the neighborhood, said at the meeting that she planned to arrange a dialogue between the community and the company planning to develop Germantown High School, High Top. But a spokesperson for High Top says it’s not currently involved with the project. Meanwhile, MSC Retail has removed the brochure from its website. A spokesperson for MSC declined to comment on the property but said the company had no current plans for redevelopment….

According to the Sheriff’s Office, if a property owner fails to pay utility bills, school taxes, or city taxes, the property may be auctioned at a tax delinquency sale so the city can collect what it’s owed. The opening bid on Germantown High next month is listed as $1,500. 

So a city-owned property once assessed as worth $11 million has been flipped from developer to developer and is now on the auction block for $1,500.

There is something unspeakably sad about the demise of a historic building that once rang with chatter and laughter and student orations and plays and life.

 

 

Michael Bonds, former president of the Milwaukee Public Schools’ Board, was charged in federal court for taking kickbacks from a charter chain. 

“Bonds is accused of conspiracy and violations of the Travel Act for allegedly accepting kickbacks from executives of the Philadelphia-based Universal Companies in return for votes beneficial to the company between 2014 and 2016. Two unnamed executives of the Philadelphia-based company were implicated in the scheme but not charged.

“According to the charging document, the executives used fake invoices to make payments totaling $6,000 to African-American Books and Gifts, a company purportedly created by Bonds. Efforts to locate a Wisconsin company by that name were not immediately successful.

“The document says Bonds also received “things of value” but did not elaborate. It is seeking $18,000 in forfeitures from Bonds.

“The document identifies the executives only as Universal’s president and chief executive officer, and its chief financial officer. The Philadelphia Inquirer used tax records to identify those individuals as former CEO Rahim Islam and current CFO Shahied Dawan.

“The charges come five months after the FBI raided Universal’s offices and Islam’s home.

“Universal was chartered by MPS to operate the Universal Academy for the College Bound in three Milwaukee school buildings from 2013 until it abruptly left the district in 2017, leaving hundreds of children stranded in the middle of the school year.

“The school received at least $11 million in taxpayer funds in its first two years, according to the court document, yet it struggled academically and financially from the beginning.”

 

Lisa Haver is a public school activist in Philadelphia. Here she writes about the long, drawn-out and very expensive proceedings to close down a failing charter school in that city.

She writes:

When the School District of Philadelphia targeted Germantown High School for closure just one year before its 100th anniversary, there was no legal recourse for students or families. No law required the District to conduct an inquiry or call witnesses in order to hear testimony from those fighting to save the school. While the administration of Superintendent William Hite did hold an informal meeting at the school, the community’s pleas fell on deaf ears. Germantown High, along with 23 other neighborhood schools that had served generations of Philadelphians, was closed by vote of the School Reform Commission in a matter of months.

Closing a charter school is a very different story. The Pennsylvania Charter Law mandates a lengthy legal process, beginning with weeks of hearings at the District level. Thousands of pages of documents are entered into evidence. Should the hearing examiner rule in the District’s favor, the charter school can appeal to the state’s Charter Appeal Board in the hope that the 6-person board of political appointees, most of whom have ties to the charter sector, will overrule the decision of the local board. Should that fail, the school can appeal to Commonwealth Court.

Not only is the process is long and expensive, but the public must pay for both sides of the dispute while the wrangling goes on, year after year.

So how many lawyers does it take to shut down a failing charter school?

The Inquirer story explains that “because charter schools are funded largely by school districts, taxpayers are paying not just for the district to make its case but for the charter to defend itself.

The District also pays for the hearing examiner, the stenographer, and for the assembling and copying of thousands of documents. Aspira Olney’s lawyers are making between $180 and $300 an hour, but lawyers for Aspira Inc. wouldn’t disclose their hourly fees—and they are under no obligation to, even though they are paid, indirectly, with taxpayer funds. The District could be shelling out $10,000 a day in legal and administrative fees. That doesn’t include billing for preparation and other costs. That’s $140,000 for the already scheduled fourteen days; total cost will easily exceed $200,000. How many teachers or librarians could that buy? How many toxic buildings could be made safe?

 

Lisa Haver, Parent Activist in Philadelphia, writes here about how it takes years and millions of dollars to close failing charter schools. The public must pay the cost of challenging the charter and pay the cost of defending the charter. The charter operator gets a free ride for failing. Only the taxpayers and students lose.

Why is it easy to close a public school but hard to close a charter school? One guess: charter lobbyists wrote the state law.

Lisa Haver writes:

“This is an unbelievable story about what it takes to shut down a failing charter in Pennsylvania.
“Aspira charter operates 5 schools in Philadelphia, 2 of which are Renaissance charters–Olney High School and Stetson Middle school.  The Renaissance program is the one where the district hands over management of struggling district schools to people who are not educators in the belief that they can bring up test scores–which Aspira has not done. The Renaissance program has been a very expensive failure in Philadelphia.
“This Aspira renewal process is now in its 5th year–since 2014.  There have been numerous stories, including many in the Philadelphia Daily News–about misuse of taxpayer funds and other evidence of mismanagement.
“The District finally voted in 2017 not to renew these charters.
“For some reason, it took almost 18 months to begin the hearings.
“The District has to pay its own lawyer and hearing examiner AND for the charter schools’ lawyers.
“APPS members including me have attended the hearings every day for the first two weeks, and it is obvious that the charters’ lawyers are running up their own legal fees by asking the same questions over and over to a succession of witnesses.
“This is going to cost the District well over $150,000.  That is a lowball figure.
“When the district closed 24 schools in 2013, there were NO legal hearings at all.  The state requires a long legal process for revoking a charter that may have been around for 5 or 10 years, but none for neighborhood schools that have been around for decades–like Germantown high, which was closed one year before its 100th anniversary.
“A disgrace.”
From the article:

“One of the city’s charter-school operators has moved money from one account to another without explanation: no loan agreements, no signatures — “a shell game,” in the words of a Philadelphia School District auditor.

“Now the School District is shelling out money to try to pull two charters from Aspira — whose school bills are paid by the district — in a legal fight that could end up costing taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars.

“It’s really the district paying for both sides, which is kind of insane,” said Temple University law professor Susan DeJarnatt.

“Welcome to Pennsylvania charter school law,” said Auditor General Eugene DePasquale. “It’s unbelievable.”

Parent advocates have called on school officials for years to investigate these failing charters but were ignored. 

 

 

 

The Education Law Center is one of the nation’s leading legal organizations defending the civil rights of students.

In this important new report, it presents a critical analysis of Philadelphia’s charter sector and its indifference to the civil rights of students.

I urge you to read the report in full.

When charters take the students who are least challenging to educate, the traditional public schools are overburdened with the neediest students but stripped of the resources required to educate them. It is neither efficient nor wise to maintain two publicly funded school systems, one of which can choose its students, leaving the other with the students it doesn’t want.

Once again, we are reminded that charter schools ignore equity concerns in their pursuit of test scores, that they enroll proportionately few of the neediest students, and that they intensify segregation even in cities that are already segregated.

Here is a summary of its findings:

  • As a whole, traditional charter schools in Philadelphia are failing to ensure equitable access for all students, and the district’s Charter School Performance Framework fails to provide a complete picture of this concerning reality.
  • Annual compliance metrics and overall data on special education enrollment mask high levels
    of segregation between district and traditional charter schools. Traditional charter schools serve proportionately high percentages of students with disabilities, such as speech and language impairments, that typically require lower-cost aids and services. However, they benefit financially from a state funding structure that allocates special education funding independent of student need, leaving district schools with fewer resources to serve children with more significant special education needs.
  • District schools on average serve roughly three times as many English learners as traditional charter schools, and there are high levels of language segregation across charter schools.Roughly 30% of traditional charters have no English learners at all. In addition, nearly all of the charters at or above the district average of 11% are dedicated to promoting bilingualism, suggesting the percentages at the remaining charter schools may be even further below the district average.
  • Despite provisions in the Charter School Law permitting charters to target economically disadvantaged students, traditional charters, in fact, serve a population that is less economically disadvantaged than the students in district-run schools.
  • Students in Philadelphia charters are more racially isolated than their district school counterparts. More than half of Philadelphia charters met our definition of “hyper-segregated,” with more than two-thirds of the students coming from a single racial group and white students comprising less than 1% of the student body. This is roughly six times the rate for district schools. Conversely, 12% of traditional charters in Philadelphia enroll over 50% white students in a single school. This is more than twice the rate of district schools (5%). iii

We know from other research that certain underserved student populations – such as students experiencing homelessness and students in foster care – are underserved by charter schools. For example, Philadelphia’s traditional charter schools serve
only one third the number of students experiencing homelessness compared with district schools.iv

Both the district’s own Charter School Performance Framework and national research point to systemic practices that contribute to these inequities. Among them are enrollment and other school-level practices that keep out or push out students with the greatest educational needs.

A charter authorizing system that focuses attention on academic and financial performance to the exclusion of equity incentivizes charters to continue to underserve students with the greatest educational needs. To improve equity, the Education Law Center recommends that the Philadelphia Board of Education do the following:

• Ensure that its evaluation of new and existing charters includes and monitors equitable access findings.

• Direct the Charter School Office to build upon the existing Charter School Performance Framework to better center issues of equity during the application and renewal processes, including collecting and reporting key data elements regarding equitable access.

• Grant the Charter School Office additional capacity to provide appropriate oversight, including serving as a recognized resource for parent complaints and reviewing each charter school’s policies and practices.

Lisa Haver, a pro-public school activist in Philadelphia wrote to tell me that “It’s a new day in Philadelphia!”

The old School Reform Commission, appointed by the governor and mayor, routinely approved charter school applications, no matter what the charter operator’s performance or record.

Last week, the new school board turned down three charter applications.

She wrote:

Hi Diane,
The new Board, which replaced the state-imposed School Reform Commission last year, voted last night to deny all three of this year’s charter applications.
The decisions, with the exception of a few abstentions due to conflicts, were unanimous.
There was not a single yes vote for any of the three applicants.
Board members gave several reasons why they rejected the applications.
The SRC would approve applications for clearly inadequate applicants, mostly for political reasons.
These schools would have cost the District over $161 million over 5 years, including stranded costs.  Now we can use that money to hire more support staff and fix our older buildings.
Best,
Lisa
Here is the story.

“In a series of historic votes, Philadelphia’s Board of Education denied all three new charter school applications at its meeting Thursday, amid calls for a full moratorium on charters. After protest from charter advocates and a group of students, the votes reversed the dominant reasoning of the former School Reform Commission, which the board seemed to uphold in December when it voted to renew the charter of Richard Allen Preparatory Charter School in an attempt to avoid legal fees that could result from a lengthy appeals process.

“This time, board members denied the three applications to expand the operators’ charter school networks, citing struggling academics at the applicants’ other schools and a difficulty serving diverse and vulnerable students. Members also mentioned that applicants have other charter schools that are operating under expired charters, without signing the conditions offered by the board, which would require the schools to meet various standards.

“City Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown spoke in favor of String Theory’s proposed new charter school, the Joan Myers Brown Academy, named after the founder of the Philadelphia Dance Company. It was envisioned as a performance arts charter school in West Philadelphia with a focus on dance.

“The vote took place after outraged testimony from Joseph Corosanite, the co-founder of String Theory Schools.

“It’s challenging for me to see an evaluation of us that is deeply flawed and biased,” Corosanite said, referring to the evaluation of String Theory’s application by the District’s Charter Schools Office. “I understand that there still may be some question, but there is not part of our application that can’t be worked through if you choose to approve us.”

Corosanite said the school should be approved because the neighborhood schools in West Philadelphia are “some of the worst in the city from an academic standpoint, as well as from a facilities standpoint.

“People don’t know how we do this because they’ve never done it before.”

“Board members explained their thoughts after the votes were taken.

“I did not come to the board with the perspective that all schools were bad. I certainly did not come with the perspective that charters are better,” said member Leticia Egea Hinton. “I’m sometimes confused by the perspective that charters, no matter how low-performing, are better and that public schools, no matter how great, are still bad.

“Our challenge is: How do we create a system that provides a quality education for all, that reflects high standards and expectations for all children, no matter where they live and who they are?”

Chris McGinley, who was also a member of the former School Reform Commission, thought back to the 1990s, when charters first appeared in Philadelphia.

“During the charter school movement in Philadelphia, it was an era where schools were supposed to become more like businesses … a quick fix, mostly for urban school districts,” he said. “We all know that promise has not been realized.”

“ said he would vote to approve only the highest-quality charter schools, “with consistency towards a Pennsylvania charter school law that is big on promise and low on accountability.”

“He added: “Even if we accept the premise that school districts should operate more like businesses, there were valid reasons not to approve. We have unsigned contracts with three of the applicants. No business would accept new bids or new work with providers who refuse to sign current contracts.”

”City Councilwoman Helen Gym, who helped found a charter school when she was a community organizer but became a critic of the state’s charter law, celebrated the votes as a victory for local control — referring to the nearly 20-year struggle of organizers and advocates to abolish the state-controlled SRC, which Mayor Kenney replaced with an appointed school board last summer.

“For years, a state takeover body sold the idea that our public schools’ most basic needs and rights had to be sacrificed in favor or reckless and massive charter expansion — no matter the quality of the charter or the impact on the school district,” Gym said in a statement after the vote. “The needs of our public schools are dire. We need immediate investments to address staffing and curricular vacancies that are robbing our children of their right to a ‘thorough and efficient’ education.” She was referring to a phrase in Pennsylvania’s constitution.

“We need meaningful investments in our school facilities so that they don’t fall apart or continue to put the health of children and school staff at risk,” Gym’s statement continued.”

The people of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania should be ashamed: the entire school district has seven school librarians, maybe fewer. The charter lobby, like vultures, has stripped the district bare of all but the buildings (and itcesnts them too).

Recently a community raised $90,000 to reopen its library. O

http://www.philly.com/education/philly-school-library-bache-martin-friends-20190111.html

The Philadelphia Inquirer called it “a miracle” when the library reopened at an elementary school. But it was no miracle. It was the schools’ parents, who raised $90,000.

Then the Superintendent, Mayor, Congressman, et al had the nerve to show up at a ribbon-cutting ceremony. No shame! They gave not one red cent, not one bit of support.

The School District of Philadelphia has fewer than 7 school librarians.

Retired teacher Lisa Haven and retired school librarian Deb Grill wrote about why Philadelphia needs school libraries:

https://thenotebook.org/articles/2019/01/15/opinion-all-schools-and-all-students-need-libraries/