Tuesday, March 3, 2015

A Win for Pennsylvania's New Governor

Many of us have been waiting to see just how new PA Governor Tom Wolf lands on the charter vs. public school issue.

In PA, it is very much a versus issue-- charters and public schools are in competition for the exact same tax dollars, making it a zero sum game, and every student who leaves a public school for a charter represents a loss in revenue far in excess of the actual reduction in costs for the district.

Nowhere has this been more evident than in Philadelphia, where charters have made themselves fat by sucking the blood from the city school system. This process has been facilitated by the nature of the district itself-- Philadelphia was one of the first large city school systems to be stripped of any semblance of democracy, its voters disempowered and its school board replaced by the School Reform Commission, a group of five political appointees who are appointed by either the governor or the mayor and who have the power to make charter operators' big green dreams come true.

The SRC has occasionally employed tactics that include the flat out illegal move of unilaterally changing the teacher contract. But even the SRC had started to notice that charters are part of their problem. 

So has the new governor, who requested that SRC not approve any new charters in this go-round because the Philly schools can't afford to be bled any more. Twenty-seven were up for consideration, with PA GOP legislators lobbying for a large number. The SRC went ahead and okayed five.

And so late Sunday, word came out that Wolf has replaced Bill Green, the former chair of the SRC, with Marjorie Neff, a retired principal and only member of the SRC to vote no on all five charters.

Green is going to take his dis-appointment to court. It's not clear how he would win that suit (the chair of the SRC is appointed by the governor), and he still gets to serve on the board.

But at the very least, Wolf, who has strong ties to the charter school community back in his native York, PA, has at least made a statement other than, "Line up charter operators-- it's Christmas!" which unfortunately has been the official position of the past few PA governors.

Early reports suggest that his budget proposal (to be announced later today) will include a boost of state funding for public schools and increased charter oversight (increased charter oversight has been proposed in PA before, but coupled with increased charter profitability, so we'll see). I am still watching and waiting, but this certainly doesn't look like a bad sign.

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