You may recall that State Senator Lloyd Smucker has been trying to sell the idea of an Achievement School District, and that he even brought some charter-choice advocates to town to help push the idea. Well, his initiative has made it out of the concept-and-hearings stage and is now an actual bill.
Senate Bill 6, the Educational Oppportunity and Accountability Act, would amend the school code to establish an Achievement School District, a state-run body that would take over local school districts. If you're wondering if this process would be politicized, here's how the seven ASD board members would be selected-- One by the Governor, two by President Pro Tempore, two by the Speaker of the House, one by Minority Leader of the Senate and one by Minority Leader of the Senate.
The ASD board would appoint an executive director who would have the power to "transfer an eligible school" to the ASD as well as the ability to authorize a charter school.
It gets worse.
The ASD has the power to convert any school under its jurisdiction to a charter school. It has to establish criteria for such conversions "consistent with national standards" which-- what? What national standards? Exactly what national standards for public-to-charter school conversion are we talking about here?
Every year the ASD must do at least one of the following to at least five (but no more than fifteen) schools in its jurisdiction:
* Replace the principal and at least 50% of the staff
* Contract with a nonprofit or for-profit management entity to operate the school
* Convert the school to a charter
* Close the school and transfer the students to some high-performing school
* Open a new charter school and give priority to students in the area
How can schools become "eligible" for this great treatment? Three ways:
* Ranking in the lowest 1% SPP rating for two consecutive years starting in 2013-2014
* A school that qualifies as an "intervention" school for three straight years starting 2013-2014
* Or 50% of the parents can pull the trigger
The first is particularly tasty, because there will always be someone in the bottom 1%. Pennsylvania could have the most awesome schools in the world, and there will still be a bottom 1%. Ka0ching, charter operators! And for those of you non-Pennsylvanians, the SPP rating is a tasty goulash of test results, VAM-soaked baloney, and fun pay-for-play features like Number of Students Who Take the SAT. If you do the math, though, the SPP is about 90% test results, and could easily be replaced by simple running the poverty numbers for the district.
Pennsylvania School Boards Association put out a position paper at the beginning of the week. They have a pretty good grasp of the situation:
PSBA strongly opposes Senate Bill 6. Not only does it entirely remove the elected school board from operational decisions of a district school, but it requires the district to pay the bill for charter tuition costs for resident students that are transferred to new privately-operated charter schools converted or created by the ASD.
Yes, Smucker's legislation privatizes everything except the bill for all this privatizing poopfest-- that bill is still delivered directly to the taxpayers who no longer have any say over what happens with their tax dollars or their school system. But if the ASD sets up a charter in their town, they still have to pay for it even as they have no say over how that charter operates.
Smucker ran a construction company before entering politics and heading to Harrisburg. Some of what he's said about the bill doesn't match up with the official summary-- most notably he's said that help and resources would first be available for the bottom 5% of schools, which matches up with the 5% number popular with ASD fans.
This is privatization at its most naked, an undisguised plan for removing local control and replacing it with taxpayer-funded profiteering. This bill should offend lefties (corporate profiteering and abandoning commitment to public education) and righties (complete loss of local control). It's just bad.
As of June 15, the bill has been passed by the education committee and has been re-referred to the Appropriations committee. Feel free to contact Senator Smucker, and if you are PA resident, please contact your elected representative. This bill is a direct assault on public education, and it should never, ever become law.