Being Governor of Pennsylvania must be one of the most thankless but important jobs ever.
With a hopelessly gerrymandered legislature, a majority of Republican lawmakers representing a minority of voters stops nearly anything from getting done for the rest of us.
If it weren’t for a Democratic Governor to act as a check and balance on this lunatic fringe, the state would devolve into chaos.
Case in point: the Charter School Appeals Board (CAB).
It took Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, seven years to fire his predecessor’s appointments and nominate replacements to the CAB.
Yet the GOP legislature is crying crocodile tears that he’s exceeding his authority by doing so.
The board is supposed to be a place where charter schools can challenge decisions made by their local school boards.
Charters are schools that are funded by taxpayer dollars but can be privately operated.
They have to ask the local school board for permission to open a new school in their district. Since the new charter would double services already present at the existent public school and require both schools to split existing funding, there is little incentive for school boards to grant these requests.
But charters can bypass local government by going to the CAB. Or at least they could when the board still had sitting members on it.
The CAB consists of the Secretary of Education and six members who are appointed by the Governor and approved by the state senate.
However, closed door negotiations with the Republican controlled senate over who they would even consider approving over the years continually stopped Wolf from putting people forward as official nominees.
After all, why would Republicans work with Wolf? What incentive did they have to do so?
Refusing to work with the Democratic Governor kept the previous Republican Governor’s appointees in place long after their tenure should have expired.
This kept the CAB ideologically right wing so the members could rubber stamp charter schools left and right bypassing the will of duly elected school boards all over the Commonwealth.
Take the most recent approval in March of the Pennsylvania STEAM Academy – a school founded by Carolyn Dumaresq, former Republican Gov. Tom Corbett’s Education Secretary.
She literally sat on the board and worked with several sitting members of CAB when she was part of the Corbett administration. Now all these years later she appears before CAB for a hearing asking them to overrule the Harrisburg School Board that had originally denied her charter school’s application.
Guess who won?
The CAB unanimously sided with Dumaresq over elected members of the local community.
So Wolf finally gave these privatization zealots their walking papers.
It’s a pattern we’ve become sickeningly familiar with in Pennsylvania.
A problem arises. The GOP legislature does nothing or has no power so the Governor takes action to fix it. Then the GOP throws a hissy fit.
The house was just on fire and you doused the flames! You shouldn’t be allowed a bucket of water!
We saw the same thing with COVID. Wolf closed the state down to stop a global pandemic. And Republicans are still crying “Tyrant” over his use of executive power.
The far right love crying “Wolf” and blaming everything on the Governor, but make no mistake – gridlock is exactly what they want.
That’s why Wolf’s action on CAB is so clever.
By firing the remaining members of the board, Wolf has functionally erased it from existence.
If the senate wants there to be a charter school appeals board, lawmakers need to vote on his nominees.
Wolf has nominated the following people to the board:
-Jodi Schwartz, a school board member from the Central Bucks School District
-Shanna Danielson, a teacher in the East Pennsboro School District in Cumberland County and former state senate candidate
-Stacey Marten, a teacher in the Hempfield School District in Lancaster County
-Ghadah Makoshi, a business owner and former candidate for Pittsburgh’s school board
-Nathan Barrett, superintendent of the Hanover Area School District in Luzerne County
One of the most exciting things about these nominees is how they might interpret the state’s 20-year-old charter school law.
Previous CAB members have refused to let school boards consider the financial impact of opening a new charter school. However, the state constitution requires public schools to provide a quality education to students in their district. Therefore, if opening a new charter school would adversely affect a districts finances, doesn’t the constitutional necessity to provide a quality education take precedence?
Many school privatization critics think it does. Will Wolf’s nominees?
Unfortunately, they have several hurdles to clear before the senate would vote on them and we’d find out.
How dare he endanger short term fossil fuel profits just to provide a cleaner environment for our kids and grandkids!
As a result, they’ve vowed to block the Governor’s appointment to a state utility commission. It’s doubtful they’d let CAB nominees through while blocking Wolf’s other appointment.
Moreover, there will doubtless be legal challenges to the Governor’s firing of previous CAB members.
In the meantime, there are at least nine cases scheduled to be decided by CAB from Souderton, Southeast Delco, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg and Philadelphia. And that’s not even counting a recent pair of charter schools in Philadelphia where backers said they would appeal the local school board’s decision to deny their request to open.
Republicans may find themselves forced to choose between waiting out protracted legal challenges while their pet charters languish in appeals limbo or swallowing their pride, doing their damn jobs and voting on Wolf’s nominees!
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