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Where did the 4,000 lost students go? District says 1,500 in charters

By Dale Mezzacappa on Dec 6, 2013 04:58 PM

School District officials say that just over 1,500 students more than the number that they budgeted for are enrolled in charter schools this year, opening up a new $12 million to $15 million hole in its budget.

Spokesman Fernando Gallard said that the District was not prepared to say yet what steps it may take to close the gap.

The charter law requires the District to pay charters for each Philadelphia student enrolled. The District itself does not get money for those students from the state or the city on a per capita basis.

"We are closely monitoring the District's monthly revenues and expenditures to determine possible savings in order to meet the new cost estimates for charter schools," Gallard said. The District had already allocated 29 percent of its $2.4 billion operating budget, or $708 million, in payments to charter schools.

The 1,500 figure does not account for any additional students who may have moved into cyber charters. [UPDATE: Gallard said that as of October, there were 6,350 Philadelphia residents enrolled in cyber charter schools, about 400 more than last year. If  those numbers hold, Gallard said, the District will pay about $68 million to cybers, some $9 million more than in 2012-13.]

The new influx of students means that 60,175 Philadelphia students are now in brick-and-mortar charters, whereas the District had projected a count of 58,643. Charters now serve about a third of all Philadelphia public school students.

Superintendent William Hite said shortly after school opened that about 4,000 fewer students than anticipated had enrolled in District-run schools this year, which raised concerns for him as to where they went. The update on charter enrollment still leaves 2,500 of those unaccounted for. 

Gallard said that the District is still trying to track down all of them, but may not be able to do so. 

He explained that the District would know if a student had left the District entirely only based on a request from another district or private school for records and transcripts. Not all parents make that request, he said.

The District closed 24 schools this year, and many of their students and their families warned that they would not go to the new schools that the District had designated for them.

According to the District's chief financial officer, Matthew Stanski, the District pays each charter school its per-pupil allotment every month based on its enrollment. For September through November, until enrollments are audited and verified, it pays based on the enrollment at the school in the prior June.

Starting in December, it pays based on actual numbers, and reconciles either up or down for the first three months, he said.

Gallard said that even with the increase above what was expected, the rate of growth in brick-and-mortar charter enrollment slowed from last year. Between 2011 and 2012, nearly 8,000 additional students enrolled in charters, a growth rate of 17 percent. This year the total jump in the charter population was 5,307, or about 10 percent.

The slowed growth is partly due to the fact that the School Reform Commission has put a moratorium on expansion of existing charters and has declined to approve the creation of new charters. The commission did approve three new Renaissance charter schools in 2013.

It is also moving more aggressively to hold charter schools to enrollment caps, a contentious issue that has been in court for years and is a subject of both political and legal tussling. Some charters have signed agreements with limits, but then enrolled additional students and sought payment directly from the Pennsylvania Department of Education. PDE has paid up, saying that the law requires it, even after the SRC invoked its own powers to suspend that part of the charter law. 

A bill to overhaul the charter law now under consideration in Harrisburg would prohibit enrollment caps, allow universities to authorize charters, and reduce the power of the SRC to control charter growth. District officials say that without that ability, they cannot reasonably plan financially, given the way that the District and charter schools are funded.

In August, the SRC suspended parts of the current charter law, as it has the power to do, regarding the District's prohibition of enrollment caps. Deputy Superintendent Paul Kihn subsequently sent warning letters to charters that the District says are overenrolled. He threatened action against them, which could include proceedings to revoke their existing charters if they don't adhere to agreed-upon caps. He also said that the schools should no longer seek direct payment from PDE, but it seems that both charter schools and PDE are ignoring that action.

Kihn gave the charters until Dec. 15 to reply. Since his letter, several charters that have not signed renewals have come to agreement with the District, Kihn said.

Overlaying all of this activity is the pending charter law debate in the state legislature, as well as the District's continued financial problems, which have resulted in massive cuts in personnel and services this year in District-run schools.

Here is how enrollment in brick-and-mortar charters has climbed over the past five years, according to School District data:

2008-09: 31,527
2009-10: 33,995 (+2,468)
2010-11: 40,422 (+6,427)
2011-12: 46,904 (+6,482)
2012-13: 54,868 (+7,964)
2013-14: 60,175 (+5,307)

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Comments (45)

Submitted by Darnelx (not verified) on December 6, 2013 7:08 pm
Always with their hand out. I remember working at Pollock School and they converted empty classrooms that were used mostly for storage to look like functioning classrooms. They set up desks and staged the whole thing for someone or some visiting group. We employees were told that the reason was that they wanted to use empty classrooms for some other purpose, but that reason was not believable. Not long after, there was a public inquiry regarding empty desks district wide implying that the district was inflating enrollment numbers. My conclusion was that one should NEVER EVER TRUST ANYTHING THAT THE DISTRICT SAYS OR DOES.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 7, 2013 7:24 am
Please update us on which schools haven't signed their charters!!!
Submitted by Taxpayer (not verified) on December 6, 2013 8:14 pm
That'll be next year's crisis. Whether the district likes it or not, it is in direct competition with charter schools for students. Either it adapts and competes or it will perish.
Submitted by Education Grad ... on December 6, 2013 10:40 pm
Taxpayer, There is a cruelty that comes with the competition of charter schools. Some children and families are MORE DESIRABLE and LESS DESIRABLE than others. Talk with any Special Education Liaison (SEL) in the District and they will tell you that children with special needs come to District-run schools because the charter schools refuse to or don't want to service children with special needs. Students with special needs are expensive. It costs money to serve them and to deal with legal cases. I know this first hand because I am a Special Education Teacher for the District. I have also worked for an organization which operates charter schools. I see both sides. I think charter schools have a place. At the same time, the District is the only educational entity with the capacity to serve large numbers of students with low-incidence and significant disabilities. Students with multiple disabilities, intellectual disability (formerly called mental retardation), autism, and severe behavior problems by and large attend District-run schools. Providing self-contained classrooms with a teacher and classroom assistants, plus related services, is very expensive. The Complex Support Needs program have a separate curriculum than regular education students. So it's not a level playing field. All children must be served. Whether you like the District or not, it is the only educational entity capable of serving all children (or almost all children).
Submitted by Taxpayer (not verified) on December 7, 2013 12:40 am
That doesn't sound like a difficult problem to address. Just figure out how much more the special needs kids cost and pay a differential for each one of them. You could have different differentials based on the problem. I would suspect charters are not pursuing them because they cost more. If they were offered more for them, they may pursue them. It would also help the SDP out financially since the SDP has a high share of them.
Submitted by Gloria Endres (not verified) on December 7, 2013 7:25 am
Taxpayer, as soon as you talk about leveling the playing field, you are eliminiating the concept of competition, which sorts out winners and losers. Saying that charters and district schools must "compete" for students but then imposing full accessibility, automatically destroys the competition. They are either open to all or they are not. Let's be perfectly clear here. Charter schools are marketed to parents as "alternatives" to their neighborhood schools which must take all comers. Then the parents must essentially prove that they and their children are a suitable match for the charter. The admission process continues until only the most suitable students get accepted. So the "choice" of admission always remains with the school. Why people keep forgetting that is beyond understanding. You see, the point of admissions discrimination in the first place is the impact it has on the school's profile and projection as a better performing or elite school. Children with special needs tend to lower that performance level, so become undesirable. What needs to end right away is the notion of competition tied to test scores. As every highly ranked school system in the world already knows, tests are to be used for diagnosis only, not as a "race" to anywhere.
Submitted by Annonym (not verified) on December 7, 2013 9:59 am
Thank you. Charters also dump students who aren't "a good fit" with their school. The criteria of parent satisfaction is also misleading. Both charter and magnet schools have the parents in a bind - you must "like" them to avoid the neighborhood school. In Philadelphia, a neighborhood high school is synonymous with failure. Also, agree test scores should not be used to "race" to anywhere. Obama/Duncan's "Race to the Top" is more insulting than "No Child Left Behind." The so called "humanitarians" - Gates, Walton, Broad, etc. - are using their insane wealth to do what they do in the private sector - control, manipulate, and destroy anyone who questions them or gets in the way. It is capitalism on steroids.
Submitted by Gloria Endres (not verified) on December 7, 2013 10:29 am
And thanks also to you. As soon as you use the phrase "race to" anyplace, you are talking about winners and losers. It should never be the goal of any educational system that some reach their goal while others fail. Never. Of course, not all students will make it to the destination of college and careers, but they can make it to wherever their potential takes them. Success and happiness in life mean three things: someone to love, something to do and the time to enjoy it all. I know this is not the business model where competition rules, but children are not adaptable to assembly line, one size fits all, mass production, no matter how many edu-entrepreneurs think so.
Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on December 7, 2013 9:15 am
Ignore Taxpayer for lots of reasons, not the least of which, is it's anger about the work force. There's something deeper there, a card not being played openly.
Submitted by Veteran of the WPHS "Renaissance" (not verified) on December 7, 2013 9:36 am
Good points, Gloria. There are so many ways in which the competition game is rigged against public schools at this point, that the terms choice and competition are actually meaningless superficial rhetoric.
Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on December 7, 2013 3:24 pm
Money, money, money to be made and the crooked pols will ALWAYS follow the money first, last and only. They'll make it up as they go along if they have too like Hardy and his sister, Seth.
Submitted by Juliane (not verified) on February 26, 2014 2:07 pm
Therefore, in the event you were to use GBP100 you'll need to spend GBP23.
Submitted by Education Grad ... on December 7, 2013 9:05 pm
Gloria, Your statement that "the parents must essentially prove that they and their children are a suitable match for the charter" is not completely true. The District has been better about making charter schools adhere to more open application policies as of late. However, in the past, charters did do a lot of screening of families. My understanding is that the District also oversees lotteries on some level. Some charter schools are honest and accept any student who is selected in the lottery. Others try to rig the system and select the student body.
Submitted by Annonym (not verified) on December 8, 2013 2:00 am
Some charters don't abide by a lottery. Yes, they hold a lottery but they accept students who don't go through the process. Charters also drop students. This is particularly problematic in high schools. On top of this inequity, Renaissance charters do not have to accept students in their catchment if the students is a junior. Junior year is what counts for Keystone tests. If a student is kicked out of one school, the Renaissance Charter does not have to take them in high school. They get sent to a District neighborhood high school. The student's Keystone scores travel with the student - thus charters and magnets have an incentive to dump sophomores who do not score proficient because then the score will not count for the school.
Submitted by Gloria Endres (not verified) on December 8, 2013 6:55 am
Thanks for this and for the information on special education laws and regulations you also supplied. I retired before the 2004 act was passed. I looked up some charter school sites only a couple of years ago which listed steps like interviews, parent contracts, and other special admission requirements for enrollment. I also talked to a former charter school administrator who admitted that their lottery was "rigged". So, you cannot blame me for coming to the conclusion that charter schools screen their applicants. I hope the district is enforcing more open enrollment. But as you yourself admit, the school can still find a way to exclude children simply by refusing service. They can also as you pointed out "counsel out" students who would affect their test score averages. Charters are essentially private schools funded by taxpayer money. They do not follow the same rules as regular district schools.
Submitted by Annonym (not verified) on December 8, 2013 1:22 pm
As a parent, I have looked at a lot of charter school applications. They all require a parent to list if a student has a 504 Plan / IEP. Some ask for more. For example, Prep Charter and Franklintowne Charter require a tax form. Some, like Eastern Univ Charter and CHAD require extensive applications. Mastery requires parents and students to sign their "By any means necessary" contract. Neighborhood schools can require no more than an address.
Submitted by Education Grad ... on December 9, 2013 9:32 pm
Annonym, It is illegal for a charter to ask on an application if a student has an IEP or 504 plan. This amounts to asking about a person's disability. MORE PARENTS NEED TO COMPLAIN WHEN A CHARTER ASKS FOR INFORMATION FOR WHICH THEY ARE NOT ALLOWED TO ASK. When charter schools require or ask for more information than is legally allowable during the admission process, it hurts everyone. First, it hurts students and parents who are denied the opportunity to apply. Second, it hurts charter schools that do things the right way because (a) charter schools as a sector gain a bad reputation and (b) it creates an unlevel playing field. Finally, it forces the District to take the hardest-to-serve kids, lowering test scores and other measures, which matter from an accountability standpoint. The most difficult students make life difficult for other students and staff persons in school where the staffs have been cut to the bone. Charter Schools Office 440 N. Broad Street - Portal A, 1st Floor Philadelphia, PA 19130 (215) 400-4090 or
Submitted by Taxpayer (not verified) on December 8, 2013 9:23 am
Who's talking about leveling the playing field? If I provide a service and a certain customer costs more to service, I charge them more. If charters were offered more money to take on special needs kids, they would. Or charters would open that specialize in them. The point is that the additional costs will be covered. As for the standardized tests, they are the best objective way to gauge whether or not the student understands the material. And life after K-12 has plenty of them. If they want to go to college, they will take a standardized SAT test. Want to be a lawyer? The Bar Exam. CPA? CPA Exam. Stockbroker? Series 7. These are all standardized tests. They are also an objective way to gauge the effectiveness of the instructor, which I suspect is why so many PFT members are against them.
Submitted by Gloria Endres (not verified) on December 8, 2013 9:32 am
Taxpayer, if charter schools want to specialize in teaching special needs children, that is fine. Say so. The school district already subcontracts for certain special needs children. As long as they follow the same laws that govern public schools. See, it is the exceptions that make things undemocratic and unfair. Standardized tests are one way but not the only way to assess children's understanding of material. Using a single test which may be unreliable or poorly written to evaluate an entire school system is hardly a way to guarantee a good outcome. Making it high stakes, only guarantees that children will be taught to take that test only. The test becomes the curriculum. (Subjects not on the test are not taught.) Sorry but that is not education. I must have missed something, but I took no standardized tests whatsoever growing up. (Not even diocesan exams.) I went to college at night and took only teacher made tests. Finally had to sit for my first all day standardized test for teacher certification and passed with flying colors. Why? Because I had a real education and was trained in how to think. I knew my core subjects and my pedagogy. Children raised only to take tests are not trained to be critical thinkers, only good test takers. There is a major flaw in that formula.
Submitted by Taxpayer (not verified) on December 8, 2013 1:15 pm
Where did you go to school? I went to Catholic school here in Philly and we had a standardized test every year that took a few days.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 8, 2013 1:47 pm
This explains a lot about this person's hostility to public education.
Submitted by Taxpayer (not verified) on December 8, 2013 6:33 pm
Why would going to Catholic school make me hostile towards public education? I would argue that you are the one who is hostile towards all other forms of education than that run by a public sector union. Catholic, Private, Charters. Anything that competes with your fiefdom. The kids fail? You get paid. Vouchers for Catholic schools? No way. That would draw kids away from public schools. Charters? No way. They would draw kids away from District schools. Standardized tests? No way. They reflect on teacher performance. Every single idea is scrutinized by PFT members to decide if it is in alignment with their best interests. The kids are merely pawns to them in this game. Every position the PFT takes has little or nothing to do with what is best for kids and everything to do with what is best for the union.
Submitted by Gloria Endres (not verified) on December 8, 2013 7:43 pm
First taxpayer, now that you mention it, I do recall taking end of year tests that were based on the curriculum. I never considered them on the same level as a statewide or national standardized test. When I taught in Catholic school for 5 years in the 60's, we had to teach from a strict curriculum. Then we were given drill sheets to go over with the students. It was all rote and direct instruction. The exams were the same for each grade. I drilled for the exams but I taught a lot of things not on those tests. After I was teaching in public schools, I met my first national standardized tests, the ITBS and later the CTBS. We gave them in spring and the results came back in the fall. We used them as diagnostic tests only. They were never used to fail schools or teachers. Teachers are not "hostile" to other forms of education, except those that set themselves up as businesses with no other purpose than to make a profit. Setting up a charter school and then subcontracting a for -profit management company is one example. Vouchers are first of all unconstitutional. And "school choice" is a hoax. The school accepting the voucher ALWAYS makes the choice whether to take the child or not. Not the parent. The school. So let's not keep kidding ourselves. Public school advocates which include parents as well as teachers want to preserve the only democratic, universally accessible form of education in the country. The privatization for profit movement has to be stopped.
Submitted by Taxpayer (not verified) on December 8, 2013 7:17 pm
Judging by the migration of students from district schools to charters, I would say most parents support charters. Additionally, I would argue that most politicians, whether they be Democrat or Republican, support charters. The President, the Governor, the Mayor, City Council, etc. all support charters. In fact, the only group that I can tell that is against them are the teachers' unions, and simply because charters are a threat the unions' economic self interests.
Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on December 8, 2013 7:45 pm
Please stop responding to him. Maybe he will shut up if people just ignore him.
Submitted by Geoffrey Winikur (not verified) on December 8, 2013 7:27 pm
A gay teacher was fired by a suburban Philly Catholic School after applying for a marriage license. Hatred and bigotry in the name of religious freedom.
Submitted by Taxpayer (not verified) on December 8, 2013 7:03 pm
LOL! That's the best you got? That school isn't even part of the Archdiocese. It's a private school.
Submitted by Geoffrey Winikur (not verified) on December 8, 2013 10:11 pm
The best I got is that you actively endorse many organizations that are based on fear and prejudice. The best you got is that many sad people agree with you.
Submitted by Geoffrey Winikur (not verified) on December 8, 2013 10:44 pm
Plus, I use my name. You are an anonymous fraud.
Submitted by Education Grad ... on December 9, 2013 9:06 pm
I also went to Catholic school and took standardized tests every year. However, these tests are not high-stakes. Catholic schools don't require students to take the PSSAs or Keystones.
Submitted by Education Grad ... on December 7, 2013 9:37 pm
Taxpayer, Please, take a few minutes to read the following comment. I'm kind of "all over the place" in the beginning, but everything will tie together. First, special education rights are civil rights that cannot be withheld due to monetary reasons. Special education services are supposed to be provided without regard to cost. Unfortunately, because the federal government largely makes special education funding the responsibility of the state, budget cuts are affecting special education services in the District. When that $45 million was released, the District used about a third of the money to hire more Special Education Teachers and classroom assistants ( Each student with an IEP technically has an IEP/NOREP. The Notice of Recommended Educational Placement (NOREP) is a separate document that is usually attached to an IEP and requires the signature of the parent/guardian and an LEA representative. For District schools, the LEA Representative is a school's Principal or Assistant Principal. The NOREP stipulates the placement (e.g. Learning Support or Autistic Support). A NOREP can be free-standing in cases in which the child is under evaluation for a disability but needs to be immediately placed in a more restrictive setting. More money per child with an IEP/NOREP would not solve the problem of charter schools serving students with special needs. There are deeper legal and structural issues at play. Market principles are hard to apply in the domain of special education due to federal legal requirements (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004), especially for children with low incidence and significant disabilities. I don't say this because I oppose market principles, but because it's reality. Raising the payment per child with an IEP/NOREP doesn't solve the problem of charter schools serving students with significant special needs. For students with low incidence or significant disabilities, including significant behavior problems, there must be a way of having a steady stream of students in order to maintain the necessary programs. The District does this by putting Complex Support Needs--Life Skills Support (LSS), Autistic Support (AS), and Multiple Disabilities Support (MDS)--and Emotional Support (ES) programs at particular schools. The District also has a small number of programs for Vision Support and Hearing Support. The School District of Philadelphia, which is a Local Education Agency and contains an Intermediate Unit, is able to project enrollment of students with significant disabilities based on the number of students in Early Intervention (special education in early childhood). CHARTER SCHOOLS IN PENNSYLVANIA CANNOT LEGALLY ASK FOR INFORMATION ABOUT SPECIAL EDUCATION STATUS DURING THE APPLICATION PROCESS. The reason for this is because such information could be used for discriminatory purposes. Thus, charter schools cannot project special education enrollment for future students. In general, CHARTER SCHOOLS DO NOT HAVE THE ECONOMIES OF SCALE TO HANDLE SPECIAL EDUCATION FOR STUDENTS WITH LOW INCIDENCE AND SIGNIFICANT DISABILITIES. A charter management organization like Mastery Charter Schools cannot create these economies of scale because Mastery is a private organization, not a Local Education Agency (LEA). Federal law requires a LEA to oversee special education matters. It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, for most lottery-based charter schools and neighborhood charter schools to maintain programs for students with disabilities such as autism (keep in mind that about 70 to 75% of children with autism also have intellectual disability), multiple disabilities (intellectual disability plus physical or medical disability), and intellectual disability (formerly mental retardation). The reason why is because there is no set feeder pattern for children who receive services in Complex Support Needs placements or Emotional Support. It's all based on availability and geography. Basically, What is the (a) closest school to the child's home which has (b) an opening in the right placement? Some of my students's parents have asked where their child will go after leaving the current school. Neither the Principal, Special Education Liaison, nor I can give a certain answer because the child's next school will be based on where the child lives and availability. Then, there is the issue of transportation. I know students with disabilities who attend District-run schools and spend an hour on a school bus one way in order to attend the appropriate program. Some students are bused to schools over two miles from their home. Schools with the CSN programs and ES draw students from large areas. A Renaissance charter school or neighborhood charter school can only draw students from its neighborhood area or from a lottery. (I know of neighborhood/Renaissance schools which also have children of teachers who attend there.) However, for elementary schools, unless the school is extremely large, there's no guarantee that from year to year, there would be enough students in the catchment area plus a lottery to support a program other than Learning Support (and maybe Emotional Support) on a long-term basis. Remember, no parent is required to disclose that his/her child has a disability on a charter school application. It's easier to maintain CSN and ES programs for neighborhood/Renaissance charter schools at the secondary level because they draw from a large geographic area. At the same time, HOW MANY LOTTERY-BASED CHARTER SCHOOLS HAVE COMPLEX SUPPORT NEEDS PROGRAMS? I don't know of any. Do you? Furthermore, with special education comes LEGAL CASES. Many charters can simply sidestep this issue by not serving a child properly or "counseling out" students. Only the parent or legal guardian could hold the charter school accountable for this through due process, mediation, or a lawsuit. However, this places an enormous burden on parents to fight for the right to have a charter school to educate their child. The District doesn't have the personnel to oversee the charter schools in order to ensure that they are properly serving students with special needs due to budget cuts. I hope this is informative for you. EGS
Submitted by Go-Eagles (not verified) on December 8, 2013 11:59 am
EGS - You and I have discussed spec. ed. in the past. It is a sensitive issue, particularly if you have a special needs child. I have a several nieces and nephews that are spec. ed. As you well know, we are spending tremendous amounts of money on spec. ed. Unfortunately, there are many kids in the middle that are getting hurt and lost in the mix. They are not at the high end, but the middle. They're borderline, but don't require IEP's. My niece has Down's Syndrome. She's in high school. Her limits were reached in junior high school. Yet, the school will be require to continue to educate her for another 4 to 5 years until age 21. Obviously, money is short and will continue to be short in the long term with any additional revenue being forwarded to the pension funds. My school district spends 25% of the instruction budget on 15% of the kids. Kids are getting lost in the mix. It's not level. We need to evaluate it further.
Submitted by Education Grad ... on December 8, 2013 6:11 pm
Go-Eagles, Your niece's parents probably could elect to have her stop attending school at age 18 if they felt that she was no longer benefiting from education. Once she reaches 18, she also has more of a say in her education because she is technically an adult. A major goal of special ed in high school, especially for students with significant special needs, is to help prepare students to live independently and enter the workforce. This is called Transition Planning. Part of what the IEP does during the high school years is make sure that a student is prepared to live life after graduation. This includes activities such as using public transportation, voting, working, handling personal maintenance and domestic maintenance needs, and being able to interact with people satisfactorily. Some students do level off or reach a ceiling academically at a certain point. You know your niece and I don't. At the same time, I'm the kind of person who believes that everyone can improve and make progress in certain areas, even persons with significant disabilities. I totally agree that a lot of money is spent on a small number of students. As a grad student, I spent time at a couple of Approved Private Schools for students with multiple disabilities. Even I question the wisdom of spending $50,000 on a student who will never be able to work or speak or live independently. But then I ask myself, What if that was me or What if that was my child? It's possible to look at the situation in a few ways. Do we look at the person first? Do we look at the disability first? Do we judge a person by what they do, even if a disability places severe limitations on what a person can do? I also rely on understanding from my own faith that the life and dignity of the person is of the utmost importance. But I agree that the cost of educating the neediest students with special needs is certainly a topic that requires discussion and evaluation. As medicine advances, more and more children who 40 or 50 years ago would have died in infancy due to their disabilities/medical problems are now able to live for much longer. I remember talking to a private duty nurse for a child who attended one of these schools. She said that her client's nursing costs were $120,000/per year (and paid for by either SSI or Medicaid). Her client was this darling little girl, but she needed a wheelchair and couldn't talk or feed herself on her own. As the law stands now, a child is entitled to a Free Appropriate Public Education regardless of the nature of severity of the disability. It's natural for a parent to want to give his/her child the best. There will always be parents of children with special needs who want the best and most for their child, even if it comes at significant public expense. EGS
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 10, 2013 6:33 pm
One correction: Age of majority in Pennsylvania is 21 for Special Education students. They can not make sole educational decisions for themselves at eighteen.
Submitted by Taxpayer (not verified) on December 8, 2013 1:39 pm
Very informative. Thanks. What is the percentage of kids that are Special Ed. in the PSD? If it is a significant number, then the charters can accommodate them with additional funding, or charters can open up that specialize in them. They would have the economies of scale. You have to remember, an economy of scale only lowers your per unit cost. It does not preclude you from providing a product or service if the price is right. And I wasn't referring to the way the system is set up now. My point was that charters are not pursuing them because they wouldn't be reimbursed properly and that if you want charters to have significant numbers of Special Ed. kids that they would need a differential in order to accommodate them. None of this is in conflict with my other post that standardized testing is the best objective way to determine whether or not the student understands the material being taught, particularly in math and science. In math, you can either solve the equations or can not. And if the teacher is not teaching to the test, then they aren't teaching properly.
Submitted by Education Grad ... on December 8, 2013 5:28 pm
Taxpayer, Regarding charter schools which specialize in special education, the District could never FORCE any parent to send their child to a school that only serves students with special needs. This is illegal. Children with IEPs/NOREPs must be educated in the Least Restrictive Environment, meaning that an IEP team must justify why a student cannot be in regular ed with supplementary aids and services. Some parents want their child to spend as much time as possible in an inclusive environment. Other parents would love for their child to attend an Approved Private School with no exposure to regular ed students. Some students do end up going to an APS, but usually only after spending time in a self-contained classroom first. LRE is extremely important because it helps control costs. However, raising the funding per child with IEP would also encourage charter schools to diagnose excessive numbers of students as having special needs in order to obtain more funding. I find it disturbing that a school would have a monetary incentive in order to label students as needing an IEP. This issue has come up with Chester Community Charter School. Why are you so eager to see charter schools educate students with special needs? Do you think the District can't do it properly? Why are you so eager to see money spent on replicating infrastructure that already exists? How is that a wise use of tax dollars? As for your post about standardized testing, I didn't see that. I disagree with the points you just wrote regarding standardized testing. For my students, I TEACH TO THE IEP GOALS AND OBJECTIVES, NOT A STANDARDIZED TEST. My students take the PASA, the Pennsylvania Alternate System of Assessment. There are three levels, A, B, and C, with A being the lower level and C being the higher level. No test is perfect. Every test has a certain amount of error in it. Regarding standardized testing as an objective measure, so much of what matters is how a student gets to their answer. How do they solve the problems? Why do you say that ,"if the teacher is not teaching to the test, then they aren't teaching properly"? LIFE IS NOT A STANDARDIZED TEST. We should be preparing students to apply what they know in the core subjects to real life situations, not just to pass a test. I don't know what your occupation is, but how do you know what constitutes "teaching properly"? EGS
Submitted by Taxpayer (not verified) on December 8, 2013 6:41 pm
I don't want to FORCE anyone to go anywhere. I want choice. I made the comment as a reply to an assertion that district schools can't compete with charters because the district schools have most of the special ed. kids. It's just not true that charters couldn't handle them if they were compensated properly. It's just another in a very long list of arguments by PFT members that don't want the competition of charters. As for standardized tests, they are important to gauge both the student's understanding of the material and the effectiveness of the teacher. Without them, who would do that? Let the teacher judge his/her own performance? Let's get real. A math problem has an answer. If the student can't get the answers, then he hasn't mastered the material. If an engineer designs a bridge and he is 95% correct, the bridge will fail at some point. If a finance person is pricing bonds and does it incorrectly, his company can go bankrupt. If a student has a wrong answer, then it most likely won't be a choice on the standardized test and he can go back and rework it. If the PFT's position is that they don't want any measurement of job performance, just say so. What's with all the spin? You're not fooling anyone.
Submitted by Education Grad ... on December 8, 2013 11:37 pm
Taxpayer, If it's based on choice, there is no way that a charter school could project from year to year how many students with specific types of disabilities will apply based on a lottery. Remember, charter schools cannot inquire about disability or IEP status during the application process. What I am saying about special education is based on my experience as a graduate student and teacher. Please do not assume the worst of me because I am a member of PFT. I am a teacher first and foremost. I WORKED FOR A CHARTER SCHOOL AND HAD A GOOD EXPERIENCE WORKING THERE. I wasn't a teacher, but worked in a summer program. My opinion on special ed has nothing to do with PFT. There's very little in the PFT contract pertaining to special ed anyway. Please don't assume that what I'm saying is the case because I'm a PFT member. The way that special ed works in Philadelphia and other counties in the Commonwealth is the way it is for a reason. Taxpayer money funds public education and the school districts and Intermediate Units are subject to PUBLIC oversight. In suburban counties, small districts use the IU in order to provide services for students with significant disabilities in school districts and charter schools. Philadelphia has an IU and it is part of the SDP. The IU has other functions than just special ed, but that's an important function of IUs in the Commonwealth. Money will not solve issues related to special ed. There are fundamental issues involving economies of scale, necessary bureaucracy, and charter school philosophies. There have been issues with charter schools serving students with special needs in other cities: New Orleans: District of Columbia: EGS
Submitted by Education Grad ... on December 8, 2013 7:08 pm
Taxpayer, The SDP has about 20,000 students who have IEPs ( That's about 1/6 of the total enrollment. According to Penn Data, 14.0% of students in the SDP on December 1st, 2012 had IEPs. Penn Data is a website with information about students with disabilities ( Penn Data is a project of the Pennsylvania Department of Education's Bureau of Special Education. Penn Data is the official source of special education demographic information. Here are the numbers for last year (the most recent year available): Go to Click for Data at a Glance by Intermediate Unit. Select Philadelphia IU 26. Then you can select a school district, including Philadelphia City SD or any charter school. Most lottery-based charter schools only have percentages in two categories: Specific Learning Disability and Speech or Language Impairment. Renaissance schools are different; some of them have students who have Emotional Disturbance, Intellectual Disability, and Autism as well. The number of students with autism is growing at a fast rate in the SDP. Look at the report for 2007-2008 and compare it with 2012-2013. The percentage of special education students who has Autism was 4.5% in 2007-2008. In 2012-2013, it was 8.1%. The number of students with Specific Learning Disability has declined by about 9% in the last 6 years from 57.3% in 2007-2008 to 48.8%. The number of students with Intellectual Disability (Mental Retardation) has increased. Percentages are not cut and dried. Some students have more than one disability. Primary disabilities are definitely counted, but I don't know if secondary disabilities are. There isn't a cut and dried method more determining primary disability for a child with 2 or more disabilities. Sometimes parents can insist that one disability be considered the primary disability. This could be for insurance or Social Security Disability purposes or personal preference. EGS
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 8, 2013 2:21 pm
Sounds like the answer is to reform the highly litigious special ed regime and many of its perverse outcomes. The ed establishment put this regime in place and now uses it as an excuse why big districts fail, why charter competition is unfair. You have created classes of students exempt from discipline, free to be anti social, and then wonder why parents flee the chaos factories that obviously follow. And you are NOT helping many troubled kids by telling them they live by different rules than everyone else.
Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on December 9, 2013 9:59 am
Are you REALLY this dumb??
Submitted by Education Grad ... on December 9, 2013 9:21 pm
Anonymous, I agree that there should be reform to special education. In particular, there should be more put on parents. But then even parents could do the minimum just to meet these requirements. The only leverage that teachers and principals have in some cases is calling DHS or truancy court. If the SDP had more money, they might be able to put more of the kids who are hellians --- have serious behavior problems --- in Approved Private Schools. A lot of parents of these hellian kids will consent to this, even if their child has an IEP. There is only so much that principals and teachers can do. Even the most difficult kids have rights, especially those who have IEPs. PARENTS ALWAYS HAVE THE POWER TO SUE! Keep that in mind. Even Mastery Charter Schools can't work miracles with the most difficult kids. EGS
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 9, 2013 5:28 pm
You make a few valid points, but you should also consider that the Philadelphia IU should be a resource for charters, as well. Many charters purchase services for special needs children from IU's in Montgomery, Chester or Delaware county. The district and Philadelphia IU have not been held responsible for providing these services (at cost or for a fee). Also, please note that their are charters with extensive programs for special needs students. With a truly functional Charter Office/Authorizer, the model could assist in partnering charter and district schools. This collaboration exists in other parts of the state and is commonplace in other states.
Submitted by Go-Eagles (not verified) on December 6, 2013 8:15 pm
My take, they went to any school district that borders SDP.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 7, 2013 8:38 pm
Statistics lie and liars use statistics. Since, these "geniuses" couldn't balance a budget properly, whose to say that they have an accurate numb er for students in the schools. Yes, this is all about money, and it looks like the district it just trying to cover up more "lost money" for district schools that will be vacuumed to the charters.

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