Mayoral Candidates Need To Speak Out on New Round of Charter School Expansion

An Open Letter From PCAPS Leaders

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With charter school advocates pressing for a new round of expansion there is a need for those who would lead Philadelphia to address what this will mean for public education in our city.

We believe the following points need to be recognized:

1). Charter expansion comes at a cost. This year, charter schools will cost the district $750 million—one third of the district’s school budget. Charter schools represent huge stranded costs and make it nearly impossible for the school district to plan and assess the savings that an economy of scale brings. This is occurring at a time when the District is facing an ongoing deficit and school budgets are going without adequate staff, classroom supplies and academic offerings to give our children a high quality education. Fraud, lack of transparency and mismanagement are serious problems in the charter sector because of a lack of regulation. Thirty million dollars have been lost as a result and this is surely the tip of a large iceberg. No further expansion should be allowed until a serious regulatory regime is established.

2). There is no compelling evidence that the growth of charter school sector has produced a school system that has better outcomes for students. Given that traditional public schools have been starved of resources, it is not surprising that many parents have opted for charter schools. However, like regular public schools, charter performance varies considerably with poverty being the single greatest predictor. Over the last two decades, Philadelphia schools moved the needle of student achievement when investments were made in full day kindergarten and lower class size, and in the most recent period have gone backward because of budget cuts.

3). Charter school expansion has increased racial and class segregation and isolation in our schools. Treating education as a commodity and creating a market of winners and losers is contrary to the democratic vision of public schools that provide equality of opportunity. Equity, is every bit as important as choice when it comes to public education.

4). Sustainable community schools are an alternative to both charters and resource starved, traditional public schools. The community schools model emphasizes enlisting parents and the community as partners, making schools hubs for services to families, developing engaging curriculum and restorative practices that nurture positive student behavior. PCAPS is calling for 10% of our schools to become sustainable community schools over the next four years.

With 40 applications for new charters up for SRC approval, it is urgent that candidates and elected officials generally speak out on these issues. We would like to meet with you to share our research and analysis on both charter school fraud prevention and sustainable community schools and hear what you think about these important questions.

Jerry Jordan, President of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers

Gabe Morgan, Director, PA SEIU 32 BJ

Kia Hinton, Parent leader, Board Chair, ACTION United

Raphael Randall, Executive Director, Youth United For Change

Yesterday Pennsylvania Voted For Good Schools. Now Let’s Make It Happen!

Yesterday Pennsylvania’s voters went to the polls in record numbers for an off year election and cast their vote for strong public schools. Tom Wolf, virtually unknown before this year, was able to capture the governor’s office by making this election about education. Tom Corbett, in spite of a strong national tide running in favor of the GOP, went down to defeat because of his cuts to education while he showered tax breaks on corporations.

One year ago at a forum here in Philadelphia Tom Wolf stated his agreement with our demands for a fair funding formula, new revenue for schools by taxing shale and closing corporate loopholes, charter school accountability, ending the school to prison pipeline and returning our schools to local control.

Since March we have knocked on thousands of doors getting voters to sign a pledge to vote for candidates who support this platform. Over the last month, in conjunction with others, we have worked to mobilize a huge education vote. That work paid off yesterday.

Tom Wolf has a mandate to be the education governor and to reverse the warped priorities of the Corbett administration. We urge him in the first hundred days to hit the ground running and take up the following challenges

• Get the legislature to pass a 5% extraction tax on Marcellus Shale, close corporate loopholes and scale back prison construction.

• Propose an equitable funding formula that insures funding for quality schools in all communities in our state.

• Declare his support for a moratorium on charter school expansion until legislation to check fraud and abuse in this sector is adopted and implemented.

• Introduce legislation to abolish the SRC and return Philadelphia schools to local control.

• Appoint a Secretary of Education who is committed to developing community schools that address the need for engaging parents and neighborhoods as partners.

Realizing these goals will require reaching out and mobilizing the education base around the state. We urge the Governor elect to go on a state wide education tour to hear from people about their schools and engage them in the work of genuine reform. We stand ready to join the new Governor in this effort and will continue to be a voice for pressing forward this agenda.

Paying More and Getting Less, A Tale of Two School Districts

The following testimony from Anne Gemmell at last week’s “people’s hearings” prior to the regular session, draws out the inequity in the way education is funded in our state.

Good afternoon, Senator Patrick Brown, fellow esteemed members of the Basic Education Funding Commission and concerned citizens of our region. Thank you for being here today to listen to the families affected by the lack of a sensible funding formula for our schools. Leadership begins with listening.

My name is Anne Gemmell and I live in Whitemarsh, PA. I am a former Philadelphia history teacher and mother of three. Full disclosure, I am also the Pre-K for PA Field Director at Public Citizens for Children in Youth (PCCY). I felt compelled to speak today because I am in a rather unique situation. I have seen our statewide funding problem from the front row. My daughters, Isabelle and Eva live primarily with me and attend Colonial School District schools. My son Harrison lives primarily with his father in Philadelphia. Therefore, he attends a city school district high school. The difference between school resources is astounding. In my daughters’ suburban schools, they have a handle on every child with any need whatsoever. If they speak a second language, if they have any disabilities, if they need help paying for a class trip, if children lack hats and gloves, the school is able to help. The need there is manageable and well-managed. In Philadelphia, simply determining all of the crushing needs children have is very challenging. Actually managing the crushing need and managing it well is not possible under the current circumstances. Philadelphia is the deepest poor large city in the country and our state’s lack of school funding equity is exacerbating conditions for thousands and thousands of children.

I once thought it was due to the city’s lack of willingness to raise property taxes. But, upon deeper examination, I learned this is not the case at all. Amazingly, homeowners in Philadelphia are far more burdened than homeowners and families in surrounding districts. According to Pennsylvania’s own State Tax Equalization Board, Colonial school district homeowners pay $12.40 for every $1,000 of property value. However, in Philadelphia, homeowners are paying $20.20 for every $1,000 of property value. This 8 point gap of equalized millage rates for neighboring districts would be bad news even if the schools were equally adequate. But, to make matters worse, in Colonial SD, we are paying less in taxes but enjoying more resources in our schools. Meanwhile, in Philadelphia, homeowners carry a far heavier tax burden but are suffering deeply under-resourced schools for their families. The equalized millage rate is especially apparent to our family because it translates in absolute numbers as well. In Whitemarsh we pay about $3,400 in property taxes per year for well-funded schools. However, in Philadelphia, we pay over $6,000 per year for a house of about the same value. Yes, we (and many other Philadelphians) pay more for schools with deeply inadequate resources. How can leaders allow such backward policy go on year after year? Why do we even track STEB equalized millage rates if we are not willing to implement policies that could account for them? Further, why would we knowingly allow so many children across PA to be short-changed during their critical, youthful years simply because they live in a community unable to extract any more local resources?

In closing, I had to buy my kids new coats this past weekend. As I looked at all of the Christmas decorations everywhere, I thought it was annoying before Thanksgiving. What is the season is really all about? To me, it’s not only about the historical baby Jesus and the pure love only a mother can know. Christmas is also a metaphor for all children here and now. All children need humanity, hope, and opportunity through love writ large: justice. A smart school funding formula in PA would not only be a vast improvement in fiscal and education policy, but it would also be an expression of justice. I urge you to forge an equitable, predictable and adequate school funding formula for Pennsylvania as soon as possible. It means more real opportunity, more possibility and less crushing need for thousands of families and communities across PA. Thank you.