Thursday, April 23, 2015

PA: York Schools To Remain Public

In what was not exactly the surprise ruling of the century, the Pennsylvania courts have finally put an end to the drive to privatize York city schools.

York was poised to be an exemplar, a public school that had already reached the end of its ability to withstand the Pennsylvania public school starvation diet. That led to a state-appointed overseer. Last December, Tom Corbett's lame duck administration tried an 11th hour attempt to put York schools in receivership. The receiver was to be David Meckley, the same businessman who had already been serving as York's minder and who had all-but-inked a deal with Charter Schools USA to take over the whole system.

This plan appealed to absolutely nobody in York, but it fit the pattern of privatization-- starve a district of resources until it fails, then declare it a failure, declare that the students must be rescued, and bring in the charters. Essentially, reform by arson (because you just can't count on hurricanes to come in and do the work for you everywhere).

The local challenge to the takeover initially did poorly, with the courts ruling that it was legally irrelevant whether the state intended to do something stupid or not. The state then tried to argue that since the school board had been stripped of power, it did not have the power to appeal being stripped of power (because someone in Harrisburg has invested heavily in the use of the word "Kafkaesque" and was trying to prop up the market). The courts said stop being ridiculous, and the clock continued to run out on Corbett as new governor Tom Wolf, who had been rather sphinx-like on the subject of charters and whose home town is York, came out on the side of public schools.

Using his best wall-reading skills, David Meckley resigned his Post de Privateur a little over a month ago.

Now comes word that the court has cleared away the last of the issues surrounding the appointment of a receiver, which makes sense since there is nobody in Harrisburg or York arguing in favor of receivership or charterfication. The district still has a recovery officer, and like virtually all school districts in Pennsylvania, it is in huge financial trouble, but the recovery officer is somebody from education, not business, and its financial issues still belong to the public.

In short, York still has a tall mountain to climb. The new governor's proposed budget will help, but it won't perform miracles-- and that's only if it gets past the GOP legislature. The people of York and their school leaders will have some tough struggles ahead-- but at least those won't include watching a profit-making charter operation strip-mine their city schools for fun and profit. For the rest of us, this little tale is a reminder of what the end game looks like, and that it's not an unbeatable, unavoidable fate for public schools.

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