Friday, October 21, 2016

PA: Bad Charter Bill Still Not Dead

Like that bad enchilada that you just can't keep down, Pennsylvania's HB 530 just keeps coming back. In fact, it appears it will be back this Monday.

I wrote about this damn thing last summer, and it has ben kicking around since early 2015. The bill was floated by Mike Reese, who was actually trained to be a history teacher before landing in admissions offices on the college level. Nevertheless, his bill is a terrible bill for public education in Pennsylvania. He states that his bill has two goals:

1) Save taxpayers money by changing the cyber funding system

2) Improve school choice.

Those are unimpressive goals, both disconnected from an desire to maintain strong public schools, and certainly not addressing issues with "the worst charter law in the country."

It's worth noting that the bill is not fully beloved by players in the charter business. Back in 2015 the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public [sic] Charter Schools complained about three aspects of the bill. In PA, cyber schools receive 100% of the per capita costs for students in the sending school regardless of the cyber's actual costs, making the profitability of PA cyber schools somewhere up there with "selling crack" and "printing your own money." HB 530 says that sending schools can exempt the per capita costs of running a cafeteria (after all, cyber schools do not provide lunch), but the charter folks still find the deduction unfair. The bill also allows deductions for previous years cyber costs, and while this will only be a thing for two years, the charter folks are afraid it will cost them too much money. Also, charters want to throw in a request to be paid for their buildings and facilities and financing. That is of course in keeping with the general charter business philosophy of privatizing the profits while sticking the public with all the costs and risks.

But those are the things charteristas don't like about the bill. There's a much longer list of things they like very much, thank you.

* Representation. The bill gives charter r4eps two more seats on the charter appeals board. It also creates a funding commission to look at charters, and gives charter reps a quarter of the seats on that board-- the same number as reps of public schools. That seems totally proportional, right?

* Real estate. Charters get first dibs on any school property that is vacated. Even if the local taxpayers who actually own the buildings have other ideas. And just how good a negotiation for price do you have when one side gets to open with "You have to sell this to me."

* Direct payment system, so that public systems don't get their hands on the money that will be sent to cyber charters-- and public schools get a narrower window in which to question the numbers behind the charter payments. This means that elected representatives of local taxpayers will never even see the money, and it makes roughly as much sense as paying your contractor in full before he even starts working on your house.

This direct payment idea may have something to do with the last budget fiasco, during which charters didn't get paid because public schools were barely getting a fraction of their state aid. If 530 were law, it would presumably rescue charters at the (further) expense of public schools the next time our legislators can't do their jobs.

* Faux accountability. The state will develop a one-size-fits-all evaluation rubric for charters. And charter reps will help develop it. And authorizers will not be able to deny charter renewal on the basis of anything except those rubrics. Does this sound like actual accountability?

* Nepotism and felonies. The law explicitly rules these out; you can't have a conflict of interest and run a charter, nor can you continue to run a charter if convicted of a felony. Because that's how bad things are in PA-- bad enough that we have to write these things into new laws.

* Mergers and expansions. The law makes it easy for existing charters to do both. As always, the taxpayers funding the business get zero say.

The point, once again, is to give charters a little more help in pushing aside the public system, the voters, the taxpayers, and other folks who aren't actually busy making money in the charter business. There's more -- much more -- verbage to plough through, but if you're in Pennsylvania, this is not a bill you want to see happen. It continues the draining of public resources for private businesses and disempowers the voters of the state, while continuing to free charter schools from the kind of accountability that public schools face. Word is that this bill is about to be considered again; it would be a good time to contact your rep and say no.

If you want a quick and easy way to do it, use this link from the Network for Public Education.

1 comment:

  1. Tried to help out. Clicked the link to send a letter to your PA reps along the lines of "thanks for making Florida look good." But unfortunately, the link would send the letter to my Florida pols and I don't want to give them ideas.