It’s been a bad week for education in Pennsylvania. Well, in all honesty, it’s been a bad few years for education in Pennsylvania since Tom Corbett was elected governor in 2010, but things have come to a head this week. From the new report that PA charter schools “have engaged in fraud and abuse amounting to about $30 million,” to the School Reform Commission (SRC) unilaterally canceling teachers’ contracts in Philadelphia, we are in trouble. Add that to the impending November York City vote on a corporate takeover of public schools, and the state of education in Pennsylvania is in dire straits.
In the Education Votes article, “New report alleges $30 million in fraud and abuse connected to PA charter schools,” Brian Washington explains that “Fraud and Financial Mismanagement in Pennsylvania’s Charter Schools” was released by several non-profit groups including the Center for Popular Democracy (CPD), Integrity in Education, and ACTION United October 1. The report states that within the past 17 years, “charter school operators in Pennsylvania have abused the system of at least $30 million. It also asserts that state agencies, charged with overseeing charter schools, are not up to the job of weeding out fraud and abuse.” The reports of mismanagement and lack of oversight in charters is nothing new, but this report comes at a time when charters and corporate takeovers are taking center stage in PA education news as well as national education news.
Washington points to the May whistleblowing report from CPD and Integrity in Education, “Charter School Vulnerabilities to Waste, Fraud, and Abuse” that claims charter school waste and abuse has cost American taxpayers an estimated $100 million. Additionally, Joshua Holland reports in “Charter Schools Gone Wild: Study Finds Widespread Fraud, Mismanagement and Waste,” that “the actual amount of fraud and abuse the report uncovered totaled $136 million, and that was just in the 15 states they studied.”
Regardless of which numbers you use, PA is responsible for a large portion of the charter school fraud. In light of these reports, anyone with common sense would think that for-profit charter schools should be turned away by districts and states. However, Corbett and his appointee in York City are doing all that they can to turn every public school in that part of PA into for-profit charter schools. The good news is the community and various education leaders are rallying around York City teachers, parents, and students in an attempt to get the school board to strike down the corporate takeover.
In her statement, NEA president Eskelsen Garcia makes her position clear: “We’re referring to the same politicians who call for ‘public school accountability’ by piling toxic tests on our students, yet seem to look the other way when it’s time to hold all charter schools responsible for their use of public funds.”
Eskelsen Garcia continued, “It’s ironic and disturbing that Governor Corbett continues to push for the privatization of Pennsylvania’s public schools – handing over entire underfunded school districts like that of York City to charter operations with less-than-stellar records.”
In truth, the two charters vying for position in York are Mosaica Education Inc. and Charter Schools USA, neither of which has a good track record. In a September 24 article, Washington points out the flaws with both corporations: “In 2012, Mosaica had a five year contract to run the Muskegon Heights Public School Academy in Muskegon Heights, Michigan, but quit after two years because it couldn’t turn a profit. Charter Schools USA began operating three schools in Indianapolis during the 2012-2013 school year. So far, all three schools have earned an ‘F’ from Indiana education officials.” Students and parents are left wondering where their children can go to school when the charters fail, pull out, or both.
This is why, on a national level, the Annenberg Institute at Brown University is “calling for higher standards for charter schools regarding accountability, transparency, and equity” in their September 2014 report, and Eskelsen Garcia is pushing lawmakers to demand oversight and accountability from charters. Some election hopefuls are calling for more accountability and transparency for charter schools, as is the case with Ohio state auditor candidate John Patrick Carney.
But, oversight is not enough. When charter schools that once were supposed to be a choice for innovation and better educational opportunities (did anyone really believe that all those years ago?) are forced upon districts in an effort by education reformers to privatize education, where are the teachers, students, and parents left? Charters have proven themselves to be ineffective, incapable, and in some cases, illegal. Fixing public education with charters is not the answer. It never was, and it never will be. Rather, we need to be electing officials who truly understand the value of public education and listening to true education experts – the teachers – when it comes to education reform that is in the best interests of students.
FYI – Pennsylvania isn’t the only state wrestling with charter school issues. The debate over charter schools and their effects on public schools is heating up daily, especially in New York City. The following links offer more information about the Philadelphia schools mess, the NYC charter debacle, and the questions surrounding NYC’s charter schools leader, Eva Moskowitz:
- How to Destroy a Public-School System
- Gonzalez: Eva Moskowitz isn’t just backed by Wall Street, she moved there
- The Battle for New York Schools: Eva Moskowitz vs. Mayor Bill de Blasio
- The Secret to Eva Moskowitz’s “Success”: Her charter schools get outstanding performance reports – which leave out some salient facts.
- Parents Rip Success Academy for Not Sharing Locations of Proposed Charters
- SUNY should reject the current application to approve additional Success Academy Charter Schools in CSD2 and CSD3, especially without predetermined locations for the schools.
- Higher Rent for Success Charters
- Rally organized by charter schools sparks controversy
- Charter School Backers Rally, Hoping to Influence de Blasio’s Policies
- Success Academy foists itself on Bensonhurst school
- NYC Parents Charge Success Academies Underenrolled, Unwanted