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.

We Want Sustainable Community Schools

Over a hundred people came together at Arch St. Methodist Church last night to kick of a campaign for sustainable community schools. The event was part of a national week of action in 15 cities across the country, sponsored by the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools (AROS)

Sustainable community schools are a transformative alternative to both privatization in the form of unaccountable charter schools and the resource starved, test driven neighborhood schools that we now have in Philadelphia. It’s a vision that calls for realizing the promise of the historic Brown decision….quality, public schools for all children.

One of the strengths of this campaign is that it brings together people who are already fighting for one or another of the elements of community schools. It brings together these strands of the education justice movement in the form of a practical demand that reflects our democratic values.

Last night’s event mirrored that understanding. A powerful video made by the Media Mobilizing Project featured interviews with students, parents and educators involved in the fight against budget austerity and privatization.

A panel moderated by three high school students from Youth United For Change heard from Kendra Brooks, President of the Steel School Advisory Committee and a parent leader from ACTION United, talk about the successful struggle to defeat the takeover of the school by Mastery Charter and the Steel’s community’s vision of a community school.

Sakiema Wood, a senior at South Philadelphia School, a member of the school peer mediation program and a member of the Philadelphia Student Union talked about the harmful consequences of negative, punitive discipline and why restorative practices are needed as part of the sustainable community school vision

Tom Wyatt, another parent from Passyunk Square Civic Association, spoke about the effort to draw on neighborhood resources in developing “wrap around” services at Jackson elementary.

Tim Boyle, a teacher at Chester Arthur Elementary and a Teaching Consultant for the Philadelphia Writing Project, spoke on the need for a curriculum and instruction that engages students and how a school integrated with the community could provide more relevance.

PCAPS Coordinator Ron Whitehorne outlined the strategy for getting 10% of Philadelphia Schools to be Sustainable Community Schools in four years, focusing on the demand that School Improvement Grant money be used exclusively for that purpose. Whitehorne promised that this issue would be a litmus test for mayoral and council candidates in the coming year.

A petition drive aimed at the SRC was launched. At last night’s meeting SRC meeting several people testified. PCAPS statement: SRC statement on sustainable community schools

Check the Community Schools task force for updates, meetings, and documents related to this campaign. And check out these pictures. Photo credits: Harvey Finkle, Terrance Meacham.

Education Report Card Time for Corbett and Wolf

For this election year we have been asking people to vote for candidates based on their willingness to support the five points highlighted below. With the election scheduled for next Tuesday we have a report card on the two gubernatorial candidates based on how they stack up.

1-Support a funding formula that will distribute state dollars based on student needs and the local district’s ability to pay.

Tom Corbett waited until his last year in office to introduce legislation creating a commission to study the need for a fair funding formula which he now says he supports.  However in his first year Corbett dismantled the progressive funding formula adopted during the Rendell administration in favor of distributing funds to politcally favored districts.   Corbett’s budget cuts hit poor districts the hardest.   Philadelphia state aid per student was cut by 21% while affluent Radnor saw a 7% cut.   GRADE: FAIL

Tom Wolf has a detailed and comprehensive plan to create a fair funding formula.   He would increase the state’s share of education costs, currently one of the lowest in country at 35%, to %50.   He would implement an equitable distribution formula that would allocate funds based on student demographics, rates of poverty and local tax effort.  GRADE: PASS

2. Provide more revenue for education and human services by closing corporate tax loopholes, taxing natural gas production and cancelling prison expansion.

Tom Corbett opposes an extraction tax on Marcellus shale, has showered big business with tax breaks and initiated an expensive prison contruction plan.   He opposed accepting federal dollars for Medicaid expansion.   He favors regressive taxes on working people and strong arming unions to make concessions as the way to fund Philadelphia schools. GRADE: FAIL

Tom Wolf favors taxing shale, rolling back corporate loopholes, and a progressive tax on upper income residents.  GRADE: PASS

3. Hold charter schools accountable and give local districts the power to monitor them.

Tom Corbett has been an advocate of school privatization and charter school expansion.  He supports legislation to take away the power of local districts to regulate charters.  He opposes reforms that would strengthen transparency and make funding more equitable.  His elimination of the charter school reimbursement line item in the budget is bleeding funding for traditional public schools in cities like Philadelphia.

Corbett also expanded the Education Improvement Tax Credit which gives corporations credits for giving money to scholarship funds, a backhanded way of providing public dollars for private schools.  GRADE: FAIL

Tom Wolf has drawn attention to the fact that charters overall do not outperform public schools and that lack of regulation has produced wide spread corruption and abuse.   He calls for increased regulation, supports locating the authorizing of and monitoring of charters in local Districts, and calls for reforming the way charters are funded including the return of excess dollars to the districts.

He also calls for a more transparent and level playing field with annual audits, restrictions on how charters spend public funds, and a uniform application process to prevent cherry picking of students.   GRADE: PASS

4) Shutdown the school to prison pipeline. Replace harsh, zero tolerance polices that criminalize students for minor offenses with restorative justice.

Punitive drug laws and harsh sentencing policies that disproportionately penalize young people of color is a point of difference with the candidates.   Governor Corbett opposes any “loosening of restrictions on illegal drugs.”   While even some Republicans are beginning to question the wisdom of spending on prison expansion and mass incarceration, Governor Corbett remains a supporter.  GRADE: FAIL

Tom Wolf has called for decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana and eliminating mandatory minimum sentences. GRADE: PASS

5) Abolish the School Reform Commission and return our schools to Local Control.

Tom Corbett favors continuing state control of Philadelphia’s schools and supports the School Reform Commission using its powers to void collective bargaining and limit union rights.  GRADE: FAIL

Tom Wolf supports abolishing the SRC and returning our schools to local control.   He calls for Philadelphians to have the right to elect their school board as does every other community in the state. GRADE: PASS