Charter School Cheerleaders Elected to Leadership with PA House Dems

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Democratic gains in the midterm elections were a repudiation of the policies of Donald Trump.

 

Yet holding nearly the same views as Trump’s Education Secretary Betsy DeVos earned two Pennsylvania state representatives high leadership positions with House Democrats.

 

Rep. Jordan Harris, D-Philadelphia, was elected minority whip – the second highest position after floor leader. Rep. Joanna McClinton, another Philadelphia Democrat, was selected chair of the Democratic Caucus.

 

Even after making gains in the election, Democrats did not get control of either the state House or Senate from Republicans, but kept control of the Governor’s mansion.

 

New leadership positions will last for two years, but have many scratching their heads.

 

Both Harris and McClinton are staunch supporters of charter schools over and above traditional public schools just like DeVos, a Republican megadonor before being selected for Trump’s cabinet.

 

Harris and McClinton support school vouchers – just like DeVos – if labeled opportunity scholarships. In their relatively short time in Harrisburg they’ve pushed for charter school expansion and even state takeovers of struggling schools serving mostly children of color.

 

Such strong neoconservative values might make it hard to tell which party the two belong to if it weren’t for one thing – the color of their skin.

 

Both Harris and McClinton are African American.

 

In fact, McClinton will make state history as the first woman of color in her leadership position. Harris will be the first black whip since Rep. K. Leroy Irvis in the 1970s.

 

Even so, their views put them in direct opposition with many civil rights leaders.

 

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and Black Lives Matter have called for a moratorium on new charter schools. Journey for Justice (J4J), a nationwide civil rights collective made up of more than of 38 organizations of Black and Brown parents and students in several cities including Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, has gone even further demanding more community based traditional public schools.

 

Jitu Brown, national director of J4J, put it this way:

 

“Who are these bankers and why are they concerned about my school? Isolation is defeat. Privatizers are not reformers. They are colonizers and settlers. We do not negotiate with our executioner. We need to kill the privatization movement. We have worked in silos and adopted the values of our oppressors. You want a seat at the table, but you are on the menu too. We have more in common with each other than any of us do with our oppressors. People will vote against their interest with hatred that they learned centuries ago – but we need to be different. We cannot adopt the language of our oppressors. We don’t have failing schools, we have been failed.”

 

Perhaps Harris and McClinton’s support has something to do with campaign finance. Both have accepted large sums from the charter school industry.

 

Harris’s 2012 campaign was funded 58% by school privation business interests – Students First PAC and its associates. That breaks down to $37,295 from Make a Difference PAC, $30,000 directly from Students First PAC and $2,000 from Economic Development PAC.

 

And he’s still bankrolled mostly by that industry. More recently, he has taken $25,000 from Excellent Schools Pa and $11,500 from Students First Pa PAC.

 

McClinton has taken $5,250 from Excellent Schools PA and $1,000 from Students First PAC. However, she also received $3,000 from the public school friendly Pennsylvania Federation of Teachers.

 

Students First PA and Students First PAC are Pennsylvania political action committees associated with the national school privatization lobbying firm American Federation for Children (AFC) which is chaired by DeVos.

 

What are Democratic House leaders doing taking large campaign contributions from Trump’s Education Secretary?

 

Moreover, both Harris and McClinton got their start in politics working for state Sen. Anthony “Tony” Williams, D-Philadelphia, the biggest recipient of school privatization money in the entire state. He took at least $5 million from the industry during his failed bid for governor in 2010, and an additional $7 million for a failed run at Philly Mayor in 2015.

 

Harris was an intern for Williams and McClinton was Williams’ chief counsel.

 

Even in Harrisburg, some question the two state reps ties to the far right billionaires bankrolling the school privatization industry. After all, these are the same people whose candidates just lost the midterms – and now fresh from an electoral victory Dems are elevating those of their own who are taking money from the same well!?

 

Student First PAC wasn’t just a main contributor to Harris and McClinton. It contributed $1 million to Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Wagner before he was defeated by Democrat Tom Wolf. It also contributed boatloads of money to numerous GOP candidates in the Commonwealth running against Democrats just this last election cycle.

 

So why would the Democratic caucus vote for Harris and McClinton as new faces of party leadership?

 

Part of the reason seems to be a power struggle inside the party between the two halves of the state.

 

Leadership had been over-represented by lawmakers from the west – the Pittsburgh region and thereabouts. Harris and McClinton’s new positions go further to balancing the power with the east – the Philadelphia region.

 

Moreover, there was a legitimate concern that party leadership was too white and male.

 

However, there were other eastern Democrats, other women and people of color in the chamber who didn’t come with the baggage of Harris and McClinton.

 

Harris was asked point blank if he’d stop taking charter school money if elected to a leadership position, according to anonymous sources. He gave no indication that he would.

 

In his role as whip, Harris will have the greater opportunity to work for the charter school industry.

 

The whip is responsible for making sure that Democratic members attend sessions and generally understand the specifics of legislation and procedural votes in the House.

 

However, his comments on education policy are extremely biased.

 

For instance, he took exception when a report by the nonprofit Public Citizens for Children and Youth concluded that Pennsylvania’s charter schools are not outperforming traditional public schools, and the state’s 20-year-old charter law needs to be reformed.

 

The report says only 21 percent of Pennsylvania’s charters made the grade on the state School Performance Profile versus 54 percent of traditional district schools.

 

Harris response?

 

“I think it’s unfair to take all of the traditional public schools in the state and all of the charter schools in the state and compare them to each other.”

 

Really? Yet you propose we increase the number of charter schools BECAUSE they allegedly produce better academic outcomes. How can you know that if you’re unwilling to compare them? Or are you only unwilling to compare them when the results don’t support the policy positions you’re being paid to promote?

 

Harris also joined with Republican state Rep. John Taylor (another Philadelphia politician) to allow the state to takeover the lowest performing districts and give them over to charter school operators on the model of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

 

Almost a third of the state’s most struggling schools — 95, according to PA Department of Education — are located in Philadelphia. Taylor and Harris’s proposal was called the Educational Opportunity and Accountability Act.

 

Harris and McClinton, who represent adjacent areas of south Philadelphia, have rallied for charter schools and de facto school vouchers together.

 

“People have told me that I’ve been trying to dismantle public education,” said Harris. “No! I just know what it’s like to grow up in a neighborhood without options.”

 

The options he’s pushing for will greatly help corporations accepting public tax dollars to run schools at a profit, cherry pick enrollment, cut services and otherwise spend that money behind closed doors without accountability.

 

Payments to charter schools represent one of the fastest growing portions of the School District of Philadelphia’s budget. These costs are pushing the district toward fiscal uncertainty. Yet Harris and McClinton are pushing for a similar model throughout the Commonwealth.

 

 

Harris calls the push for more charter schools a “righteous movement.”

 

I’m sure Betsy DeVos would agree.

 

Education advocates in the Keystone state find themselves in a precarious position.

 

Though many of our candidates won in this midterm election, we will have to keep a close eye on Harrisburg.

 

Where will Harris and McClinton lead the party?

 

Will they encourage their colleagues to take money from the school privatization industry – the same industry bankrolling their opponents?

 

Or will they keep their biases to themselves and work for the betterment of the party and the communities it is sworn to represent?

 


 

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Charter School Lobby Donates $50,000 to Teachers-Union-Backed PA Attorney General Candidate

Giving a bribe into a pocket

 

What’s the best way to avoid a charter school scandal?

 

In Pennsylvania, apparently you bribe the Attorney General.

 

That may be why Students First PAC donated $50,000 to Josh Shapiro, a Democrat running for the position.

 

This political action committee is not to be confused with the infamous national group founded by Michelle Rhee. Students First PAC is a state organization that typically contributes to charter school friendly candidates.

 

And $50K is quite a chunk of change in a State Attorney General race – the office in charge of prosecuting charter schools for breaking the law.

 

Charter school scandals have been an almost weekly occurrence throughout the Commonwealth. Chester Community Charter School, the state’s largest brick-and-mortar organization, is under investigation for pocketing $1.2 million “in improper lease-reimbursement payments.” As Philadelphia public schools are being closed due to a miserly state budget, “nonprofit,” charter operator Aspira Inc. was caught using public money to boost its real estate holdings instead of using those funds to educate children. Nicholas Trombetta, the founder of Pennsylvania’s largest cyber charter, an institution that operates exclusively over the internet, “was charged with fraud, for funneling $8 million of the school’s funds into his personal companies and holdings.”

 

It’s easy to see how having the state Attorney General on your side would benefit an industry rife with fraud and malfeasance.

 

Shapiro, chair of the Montgomery Country Board of Commissioners, is the odds on favorite to succeed Kathleen Kane as the state’s highest ranking law enforcement officer.

 

He is running for the Democratic nomination against Northhampton County District Attorney John Morganelli, and Allegheny Country Attorney General Stephen Zappala.

 

Despite strong corporate education reform ties, Shapiro has been endorsed by the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA), the largest teachers union in the Commonwealth.

 

At a public debate earlier in March, challenger Morganelli called out Shapiro on the Students First PAC donation.

 

“Josh, you are really good at giving speeches but your resume doesn’t match your performance,” Morganelli said. “You have received $25,000 from Students First PAC, which is a charter school [organization], and you received it on March 4th 2015. That is a charter school advocate that is hurting our public schools. Josh gives a great speech here then takes $25,000 from Students First PAC, I think that’s wrong.”

 

Morganelli added in a prepared statement in Harrisburg, “It was later determined that Josh accepted an additional $25,000 from Students First PAC in 2012. Who knows how much more he may have received from them that has not yet surfaced.”

 

Shapiro has never publicly denied these allegations.

 

His response at the debate was that voters should judge him based on his record.
However, Shapiro’s campaign manager Joe Radosevich responded further.

 

“Josh’s record in support of public education is unmatched and he’s proud to stand with Pennsylvania teachers in this election,” he said. “Josh is the only candidate for Attorney General who will protect Pennsylvania teachers and stand up for the rights of each and every student to a ‘thorough and efficient’ education as guaranteed in our state constitution.”

 

Morganelli also took issue with PSEA for endorsing Shapiro over himself. He criticized the organization for a history of siding with candidates with whom high ranking leaders have a relationship regardless of their positions on eduction. He cited PSEA’s endorsement of Tom Corbett for Attorney General in 2008. Corbett won that election and went on 2 years later to become one of the worst Governor’s in state history whose “greatest” achievement was slashing almost $1 billion from our public schools.

 

PSEA’s endorsement of Shapiro is in the same line, Morganelli said.

 

“How can PSEA endorse a candidate who is in bed with the Charter school folks? This would be like someone being funded by both the NRA and CeaseFire [PA] – inconceivable!”

 

PSEA spokesman David Broderic compared Morganelli’s criticism to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

 

“PSEA’s members decided to recommend Josh Shapiro, based on his support for our issues,” Broderic said. “That’s what happens in politics. Today’s Trump-like antics don’t do anything but devalue politics. It’s a shame he felt the need to do that.”

 

Shapiro is receiving tremendous flack for the donations. In private, he explained the matter further, according to a confidential source.

 

He said the money was actually donated by his friend Joel Greenberg, a hedge fund manager who has worked with Shapiro on county, Jewish and Israeli issues. Greenberg funneled the money through Students First PAC. He gave his own personal money to Students First PAC which, in turn, gave it to Shapiro.

 

Greenberg is infamous in his own right as one of the three Philadelphia investment bankers who founded Students First PAC. He is also on the board of the American Federation for Children, a national school choice group with mega wealthy far right backers including the Koch Brothers.

 

The explanation makes little sense. It is shameful that the PSEA hasn’t pushed Shapiro to either publicly explain his actions or give back the money. At very least, the union could retract its endorsement.

 

Morganelli is to be praised for bringing the matter to public attention. Unfortunately, he is plagued by his own political shortcomings.

 

In 2007, Morganelli joined State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe for a witch hunt against illegal immigrants.

 

Metcalfe, a Republican from Cranberry Township, is so far right, he makes Rick Santorum look like Bernie Sanders! He is infamous in state politics for flamboyant actions against homosexuals and immigrants.

 

Metcalfe wrote a report called “Invasion PA” claiming Commonwealth lives were at stake because of a perceived influx of illegal immigrants. It was laughed out of Harrisburg, but Morganelli supported it – at least at first.

 

“It’s not an illegal immigration issue, it’s a crime and national security issue,” said Morganelli, who claimed about 5,000 illegal aliens in Northampton County had been responsible for a disproportionate share of the crime.

 

Five of 10 rapes in Northampton County last year were committed by illegal immigrants, Morganelli said.

 

Pennsylvania taxpayers are picking up the tab for illegal aliens housed in county and state prisons, he said.

 

However, when the report was met with ridicule, Morganelli tried to distance himself from it.

 

He called it ”deficient.”

 

”The report was, in my view, poorly constructed,” the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review quoted Morganelli as saying. ”It was a compilation of opinions and inferences drawn from arrests that really did not support the conclusion that an ‘invasion’ is occurring in Pennsylvania.”

 

In addition to this catastrophic lapse in judgement, Morganelli is also a staunch advocate for the death penalty. Not exactly someone suited to state office.

 

Of the three Democrats running for the position, Zappala is clearly the best candidate. He has been a just Attorney General in Allegheny Country since 1998. For instance, he is in favor of treatment and prevention for drug abusers rather than incarceration.

 

The Republican candidates are John Rafferty, a state senator from Montgomery County, and Joe Peters, a Wyoming County resident who was a former police officer, federal prosecutor and spokesman for current Attorney General Kane.

 

Kane is not seeking re-election. The primary election is April 26.

 

The office has been plagued by scandal under Kane. She stormed into the position with immense political good will, the first Democrat and woman to be elected to the position since it became an elected office in 1980. She was a rising star likely to challenge Republican Pat Toomey for U.S. Senate. However, her star fell in August 2015. She was arrested and charged with multiple offenses, including two counts of felony perjury, and obstruction of justice. A month later the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania suspended Kane’s license to practice law, the first such occurrence for a Pennsylvania Attorney General. Since she was not removed from her position, she has continued to exercise her duties as with a suspended license by delegating legal responsibilities to her top advisers.

 

Pennsylvania needs an Attorney General free from controversy, and both Shaprio and Morganelli don’t fit the bill. We can’t let someone who accepts huge charter school donations take over regulating the industry.

 

And shame on PSEA for letting down the Commonwealth’s teachers, parents and children. Endorsements should be made based on what’s best for our schools not personal relationships.