Fund my charter school.
Come on, Pennsylvania.
Let me just swipe tax dollars you set aside to educate your children and put them into my personal bank account as profit.
I’ll be your best friend. Or at least I’ll be your legislator’s best friend.
That’s why lawmakers in Harrisburg are once again looking to pass a school code bill (House Bill 530) that would let charter schools expand exponentially almost completely unchecked and without having to do any of that nasty, sticky accountability stuff you demand of your traditional public schools.
Sure there are a few provisions in there to make charters fill out more paperwork, but the benefits for privatization and profitization of your child’s education are huge!
For me, that is. For your child, not so much.
For instance, the proposed legislation would set up a charter school funding advisory commission. This august body would have many duties including the ability to authorize charter schools in your local school district.
No longer would prospective charter operators have to come before your duly-elected board members and plead and beg to set up shop and suck away hard to come by education funding. They could just appear before the commission and sidestep your local democracy completely.
Who will be on this commission? I’m glad you asked.
We’ve got eight legislators. Got to give THEM a voice. But they’re usually pretty cheap. A few bucks in the re-election campaign and we’ll be golden. We’ll also have the state secretary of education and the chairman of the state board. We’ve got to make the thing look legit, right?
But here’s the best part! We’ll have four public education representatives and FIVE representatives of the charter school industry!
Isn’t that great!? There are significantly more traditional public schools throughout the state, but they’ll have less representation on the commission! It’s stacked with charter friendly votes! The forces of privatization have a built-in majority! Ring the dinner bell, Baby! Once this bill gets passed, it’s charter school time all across the Commonwealth!
Okay. There is a downside. Commissioners can’t be outright voting members of charter boards or their families. And if they’re being paid by charters they have to sign a sworn statement admitting that fact. Also, no criminals – no one convicted of fraud, theft, malfeasance.
Sucks, I know, but we’ll find a way around it. Don’t you worry.
However, the best is yet to come. Once a charter school has been given the go-ahead to exist, the proposed bill allows it to expand without getting permission from anyone!
That’s right! No commission, no local school board, nobody.
If there are children on the waiting list to get in, we have to take them first, but then we can start enrolling kids from outside the district!
Yes! Outside the district!
Here’s what the bill actually says:
“If a charter school or regional charter school and the school district from which it is authorized have voluntarily capped enrollment or the district attempts to involuntarily cap enrollment of resident students and the charter school or regional charter school has enrolled the maximum number of resident students, the charter school or regional charter school may enroll students residing outside of the district.”
This would appear to allow charters to enroll kids outside of the district and still charge the district to pay for them!
But wait, there’s more! If charter operators want to expand in any way, they can – unless they agree not to. If operators want to add more grades, they can. If we want to consolidate one charter school with another, we can! Meanwhile all this expansion sucks away local tax dollars to pay for students that don’t even live there!
“I drink your milkshake,” traditional public schools!
So while public schools are shrinking due to loss of funds to unchecked charter expansion, this proposed bill adds insult to injury. If a traditional public school has to close a building or even has a few empty classrooms, charter schools get the right to buy or rent them out before anyone else!
I see you’ve got 7 empty class rooms in your school building. Charter School X will rent those from you. Maybe next year, we can rent out the rest of the floor once we’re done slurping up all your funding!
But wait! There’s more!
We now get to my favorite part of the proposed bill. (Do I keep saying that? It’s just such a gorgeous piece of legislation. ALEC has really outdone themselves writing it!)
We get educational tax credits. That’s school vouchers, folks!
I know, I know. The state legislature tried to pass a voucher system (Senate Bill 1) in 2011, and it was soundly defeated because it was so unpopular.
Three out of Four Pennsylvanians didn’t like that it gave state tax dollars to charters, private and parochial schools without any accountability. Well, guess what folks!? There’s hardly any accountability in this here bill, too!
Here’s how it works. You donate $X to a voucher school and we just take that off of your taxes. And if that’s the same or more than you’d normally pay for, let’s say, public school taxes, then all of your money goes to voucher schools.
It’s not really new. We’ve been quietly encouraging this kind of thing for a while now. This bill just expands it.
It allows public tax dollars to be used by religious schools – a clear violation of the Separation of Church and State. But who cares? Let’s leave that up to the courts. How dare they try to violate state’s rights. And all that. Etc. Etc.
But it’s not all robbing public schools and enriching corporate charter school operators. There are a few sticking points.
For the first time, the proposed bill allows local school boards access to charter financial and personnel records. We even have to submit to full audits. And our teachers will be subject to the same pseudo-scientific evaluations as traditional public school teachers.
In addition, charter schools will have to undergo a whole new evaluation “matrix” to show that they’re doing a good job.
I know. It sounds a lot like what traditional public schools have to undergo right now. It sounds absolutely untenable.
But here’s the difference. This new evaluation system for charters carries absolutely no consequences!
That’s right! Even if charters fail these evaluations, the state can’t do diddley squat to them! Not so with traditional public schools. If THEY fail to show progress, they can be closed down and turned into… charter schools!
Oh! It is a beautiful time to be alive!
If this bill passes, charter school operators will have it made in the shade.
Cut student services and increase corporate profits? Check!
Kick out special education and other hard to teach students? Check!
Escape almost any kind of accountability for our actions? YOU BET!
Pennsylvania lawmakers could bring this bill to the floor anytime now.
It’s up to you, lawmakers. Do you want to keep getting tons of campaign cash from our industry or do you represent those – yuck – voters?
Do the right thing. Or should I say, do the right cha-ching!
Did you see that? Did you see what I just did there?
I am a cad. I mean… card.
In all seriousness, if you live in Pennsylvania, please, contact your legislators and ask them to oppose this terrible bill. The Network for Public Education has made it very easy. Just click HERE and you can shoot off a letter to your representatives in moments.
Oppose HB 530. Fight for public education.