Tuesday, November 19, 2019

PA: Charter Drains Public Schools, Now Wants To Absorb Them

This week the Philadelphia Enquirer ran the story of a charter operator that wants to take over all of a district's public elementary schools. This is perhaps a logical next step in a district that has been steadily and methodically starved over the past decade. Once you've sucked out the blood and consumed the flesh, what is there left to do but feast on the bones?

The school district is Chester Uplands, and they've been in the charter-related news before. Specifically, they were the poster child for how a careful gaming of the charter system in Pennsylvania could result in huge charter profits. As I wrote at the time:
The key is that while all CUSD students with special needs come with a hefty $40K for a charter school, they are not all created equal. Students on the autism spectrum are expensive to teach; they make up 8.4% of CUSD special ed student population, but only 2.1% at Chester Community Charter School, and a whopping 0% at Widener and Chester Community School of the Arts. Emotionally disturbed students are also costly; they make up 13.6 % of special ed at CUSD, 5.3% at Chester Community, and zero at the other two. Intellectual disabilities make up 11.6% for CUSD, 2.8% for CCCS, and zero for the others. 
Speech and language impaired, however, are pretty inexpensive to educate. CUSD carries 2.4% of the special ed population in this category, but the three charters carry 27.4%, 20.3% and 29.8%.
Back in 2015, this helped put CUSD in the astonishing position of giving more money to charter schools than it received from the state.

Gureghian's PA home, where he
no doubt sits and thinks about
how he does it all for the children
Meanwhile, the district has been under the supervision of a court-appointed receiver since 2012. The state takeover hasn't exactly helped; the administrative side of things is such a monumental mess that in 2017 the state auditor general aid his office could not complete an audit of the district-- too many records were lost or just screwed up. The third of the court-appointed receivers was re-appointed this year--and promptly to spend more time with his actual day job. This is not supposed to mess up the newest recovery plan roll-out, as that work is being done by some hired consultant.

In 2015 the district made a deal for charters to accept less money for students with special needs, but the cyber charters went to court to be exempted-- and the court eventually agreed, giving CUSD a huge retroactive bill to pay cyber charters.

The district has long been attractive to worst of charter vultures. Not just the cybers, but for-profit management companies like CSMI, founded by the infamous Vahan Gureghian, charter school multimillionaire and generous GOP donor.

Currently, charters enroll about half of the 7,000 student district population. CSMI would like to have a larger piece of the pie and run all of the elementary education in Chester Uplands, and it has asked the court to hand them over (because the district itself has no say in this). CSMI runs some charters elsewhere, including a school in New Jersey that is the subject of a whistleblower lawsuit. The suit was filed by a former principal who says she was fired for making a fuss over CSMI's policy of cutting corners to make a buck. Cutting corners didn't just mean cutting services; it also meant falsifying records and misappropriating funds. Great company.

The Palm Beach mansion Gureghian just sold at a profit.
There's probably a whole separate room just for thinking
about the children.
It is unclear how much money CSMI would make on the Chester Uplands deal because, as a private business, it doesn't have to account for its financials activities-- even though they are funded by trhe taxpayers. Do you see why, when someone like Cory Booker or Pete Buttigieg starts talking about how only for-profit charters are bad, they are just selling thinly sliced baloney. Chester Community Charter School is as non-profit school--that generates profits for the CSMI management company that runs it, and runs it like a business and not like a school.

The Inquirer quoted the CUSD school board president--his primary concern isn't the charter takeover of the elementary schools as much as it is the inadequate funding from the state. "Ask them what they have done for 25 years in Chester Upland." He has sort of a point, but the fact is that this non-weathy non-white district is in danger of losing all local control and voice.

This is what chartering as a tool of privatization looks like. Gut the public schools. Chase the students into profitable charters. Strip every last asset from the public school and strip all the power from the voters and taxpayers. Operate charters like businesses; every dollar you spend on students is a dollar you don't get to keep. Make some guy a multimillionaire while stripping public education and democratic voice from the members of a poor community.

1 comment:

  1. Wouldn't it be nice if power brokers could be shamed into doing the right thing? Keep writing, Peter.

    ReplyDelete