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Should Pa.'s colleges get the keys to drive the state's charter school strategy?

by thenotebook on Dec 05 2013 Posted in Latest news
Photo: Kimberly Paynter/WHYY

Pennsylvania State Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams is cosponsor of Senate Bill 1085, known as the "Charter Reform Bill."

by Kevin McCorry for NewsWorks

There's a game-changer on the horizon, a piece of legislation rumbling through the halls of Harrisburg that, if passed, promises to alter forever the landscape of public education in Pennsylvania.

It's called Senate Bill 1085, referred to by many as the "Charter Reform Bill."

Proponents say it will raise the standards by which charters are opened and evaluated, while ensuring the creation of more high-quality educational options for all Pennsylvania's students.

Opponents say it would create a "Wild, Wild West" scenario in which charters would be able to "grow unfettered," while bringing about the "death knell" of traditional public education.

The bill has passed a key Senate committee, but the timing of a full Senate vote is unclear.

Of the major provisions of the bill, the most contentious debate surrounds its creation of "university authorizers." This would allow institutes of higher education to authorize and oversee new charter schools without the input of local school districts.

To build a charter

Right now, when a group wants to open a brick-and-mortar charter school in Pennsylvania, it must first win approval from the local school district.

In charter-law-speak, the local school district is the "authorizer."

To some, this makes sense. Local school districts need to be able to predict how many students they're going to be responsible for educating in order to set a financial plan and appropriately staff their schools. The money that colleges would get to run charters would be taken out of the budgets of the students' home school districts.

But to others, this system of authorization seems to be a conflict of interest.

"In most cases, the district sees the charter schools as competitors, and they then have absolute control over whether those competitors exist or whether they don't," said Robert Fayfitch, executive director of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools.

His coalition advocates for the bill's passage, calling the the existing charter law, written in 1997, "outdated and antiquated."

Proponents like Fayfitch say that school districts in Pennsylvania have never been great authorizers (and thus have authorized some poor-performing schools) in part because they haven't appropriately staffed their charter offices.

In Washington, D.C., a governing board separate from the D.C. school district oversees charter growth. There, 26 staffers (including two communications officers) oversee 60 charter schools.

In the Philadelphia School District, which oversees 86 charters, the same work is done by seven staffers.

Colleges and universities who have the desire to improve public education would authorize and oversee charters in a much more robust and fair-minded way, proponents say.

As written, the bill would allow any college or university with at least 2,000 students to apply to become an authorizer. If accepted, it could authorize an unlimited number of charter schools within its home district.

Read the rest of this story at NewsWorks

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Comments (17)

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on Thu, 12/05/2013 - 22:46.

Mr. Fayfitch: Charter schools are supposed to be public schools. Our public school system is a "public trust" to be run democratically and in the best interests of the students and the local community.

You propose a private school system to be run by and for the interests of those who run it. You are looking out only for your own self interest and not the common good.

How many of your charter schools have an elected board of trustees.

I am all for true charter schools which operate as public trusts.

What you propose is not a public trust but a private business.

The only way to govern schools in the best interests of the students, their parents and their community is to govern them democratically in consonance with the principles of democracy. In case you have forgotten, the values and due processes of democracy are written in our Constitution.

The Pennsylvania Constitution mandates a system of "public education."

It is time we started being honest.

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on Fri, 12/06/2013 - 07:18.

The Bill was written by and for the privatizers who want to turn schools over to private businesses for profit. Its intent is to circumvent the mandatory public processes required by the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution.

It is an act of some of our state Senators against the citizens of Pennsylvania and especially Philadelphia's citizens. It is an attack on democracy itself and people had better get their heads out of the sand.

The Charter School Law certainly needs to be reformed because it is already a flawed law which allows venture capitalists to create a web of hidden businesses to redirect the taxpayers' money away from children and into the pockets of profiteers. In case anyone does not know, the Charter School Law already allows colleges to "found" charter schools and run them.

We need charter reform that ensures our true charter schools are secure, transparent and democratically governed through public processes.

This Bill is part and parcel of the corporate raid on public education which is a national, concerted effort to destroy public education.

Senate Bill 1085 is the worst Bill I have seen. It is even worse than Act 46, and look at the mess that has created. Our school system is in the worst shape it has ever been and there is more money wasted than ever before.

Senate Bill 1085 is a sham.

Submitted by Morrie Peters (not verified) on Fri, 12/06/2013 - 09:25.

Charters schools are economically implausible and inefficient. School districts distribute limited funds. It is absurd to even suggest that any entity other than the one who distributes the funding would have any authority over the schools under their fiscal and ethical auspices. Charters are boondoggles for politicians and those connected to them. I.E., Dwight Evans and Kenny Gambles' Universal, Anthony Hardy Williams and Mastery, June Brown and the politicos of Overbrook, Mike Nutter and Philadelphia Academies, "INC". It is long past time for the fiscal conservatives to face the facts that they are a waste of limited tax dollars and for progressives to understand that we do not have unlimited funding for education. Have a nice day:-)

Submitted by Poogie (not verified) on Fri, 12/06/2013 - 09:53.

Absolutely it is a way for colleges to give lucrative business opportunities to businessmen and reap huge donations from the money skimmed off of education taxes.

Isn't that what education reform is about?

Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on Fri, 12/06/2013 - 19:18.

You just said it all, skimming money designed for the poor to the rich with a wink, wink there and a wink, wink here. EVERYBODY knows the truth but it will continue unless we stop it ourselves. Hardy Williams has had his hand out for a very long time, playing both sides against the middle.

Submitted by rob (not verified) on Fri, 12/06/2013 - 10:04.

I wonder what a $100,000 donation to the Chancellor's discretionary fund will do for my chances of opening up a charter school?

Submitted by Annonym (not verified) on Fri, 12/06/2013 - 11:37.

Eastern Univ. runs a charter. It has one of the most arduous enrollment processes in the system. The paper work is ridiculous. Class example of "barrier to entry." I any university that authorizes a charter will do the same - create a school of their liking by ensuring they control enrollment. Then, who is left for District schools? If you control enrollment, you manipulate scores.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 12/06/2013 - 11:42.

AS our system of public education exist the local community has the venue to control and alter how THEIR tax money is spent. Under this proposal were would you go if you had an the college president...I don't think so. These college president would care about one thing and one thing only...our money and how they can take it from us to better themselves. And as Mr. Fayfitch said:" Local agency have approved many poor charter schools"...only because most charter schools are poor performing! It is about time that the Republicans get their head out their ..... and realize this grand experiment of charter schools has not worked...especially cyber charters!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 12/06/2013 - 11:49.

But it makes them and their constituents so much money.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 12/06/2013 - 11:47.

So let's see a privately funded colleges like Drexel or Penn would have discretion over opening/regulating "public schools" and dispersing tax payer money where tax payers will have no say on how their tax dollars are used. Sounds like democracy in action and the new American way. Makes me want to move to Canada.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 12/06/2013 - 11:50.


Submitted by Go-Eagles (not verified) on Fri, 12/06/2013 - 21:09.

Go ahead, move to Canada. They have a much better education system. If you think Philly is bad, Canada's education system has a mix of using tax dollars not for just public school districts, but parochial school districts (not for all provinces). Yes. I said parochial school districts. Imagine that, parochial school districts. I'm not talking vouchers here. We're talking whole school districts. The nerve of those Canadians to use public money for parochial education.

Furthermore, they have zero, naddy federal government intervention from Ottawa in education. It's all done at the provincial level. They even have bilingual schools. Parlez vous francais? Geez. No wonder why their education system is ranked much higher than ours. Don't believe me, go look up the Constitution Act of 1867.

BTW, you can use their healthcare system, which maybe better (debatable) than what we may/will ever have with Barrycare.

There is something to be learned here. Makes me want to move to Canada. Sounds like a winner. Been there many times, even with 5 feet of snow.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 12/06/2013 - 13:50.

This is what happens when a low life culture who doesn't value education sends kids to school. They don't learn, get bad test scores and Repugnantcans and Greedy Uncle Tom Democrats immediately go after teachers as the purveyors of failure. They see now education as a free enterprise, let any greedy a-hole who thinks they know how to run a school embezzle money and it's all ok because it's democracy and free enterprise. We do not live in a democracy. We are all the victims of corporate dictatorship. Last time I checked, teachers were not supposed to fix all of society's ills. But, we should be punished for the fact that those ills exist and with hardly any resources, get the best test scores dealing with constant interruptions from outside and inside the classroom non-stop. Hardy Williams does not want to make things better for his people, he'll sell them down the river for a song. This guys a corporate Uncle Tom of the highest order. Drop dead Hardy. Scumbag.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 12/06/2013 - 17:18.

Sen. Williams is the worst Senator ever. I am a democrat and unfortunately that self -serving person is my representative.

He owns a charter school and that school is awful, yet he can't pass up the money. He's changed the name of the charter school about four times thinking that would help.Still bad.

Why is it these legislators are even allowed to vote for this stuff when many have their dirty hands in it, like Evans, Fattah, Williams, etc.

Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on Fri, 12/06/2013 - 19:22.

Because WE have allowed it by NOT reacting in a big way against them.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 12/06/2013 - 20:11.

If "cyber charters" are to get "5% less funding", that is still way too much money going to them. They suck the money from local districts using a formula that has "nothing" to do with cost!! The districts who are paying get no academic reports and the cybers have "no" accountability to anyone. Our school district never "approved" a cyber charter school and yet we are stuck paying for them. If parents are unhappy with public schools, they should pay to send their kids to private schools. If they cannot afford it, so be it. Who ever said life was fair? Why is it "my" responsibility to pay for anything more than the public school?? Personally, I resent my school tax dollars going to some "business man" for his profit. My school tax dollars should stay right where I pay them - in my local school district. Oh, by the way, the legislators so far have refused to change the funding formula to have it based on actual cost. Imagine that! Simple logic would tell you that a cyber in no way costs the same as a public school. Our legislators should all be voted out! We need to clean house in Harrisburg.

Submitted by gtown-teach (not verified) on Sun, 12/08/2013 - 20:41.

I can't believe this bill has made it through committee. Think charters are only of Philly and chester? They'll be charters opening up in Abington, Upper Dublin, Upper Moreland, Lower Merion, etc.. If colleges can just skirt local districts, you will see a flood of Temple, St. Joseph's, U of Penn, Drexel, Devry, Penn state k12 schools opening up everywhere. This is state money going to private and "public" colleges to run schools. This is a giant cluster!@#$ waiting to happen.

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