Tuesday, September 1, 2015

PA: Charter Windfalls

The financial crushing of Chester Uplands Schools, where teachers and staff are now working without pay while legislators dither over a long-past-due budget in Harrisburg-- well, this mess has ended up dragging ugly worm into the light of day.

Here's an excerpt from the Judge Chad Kenney's ruling nixing the state's proposed relief for CUSD:

The Charter Schools serving Chester-Upland Special Education students reported in 2013-2014, the last reporting period available, that they did not have any Special Education students costing them anything outside the zero (0) to twenty-five thousand dollar ($25,000.00) range, and yet this is remarkable considering they receive forty thousand dollars ($40,000.00) for each one of these Special Education students under a legislatively mandated formula. This means the legislative formula permits the Charters to pocket somewhere between fourteen thousand ($14,000.00) and forty thousand dollars ($40,000.00) per student over and above what it costs to educate them. While this discrepancy needs to be seen in most instances as the operators of Charters taking advantage of legal mandates, it is clear that the Legislature did not mean for its averages to produce such windfalls to the Charter School industry in a distressed district.

(Hat tip to Keystone State Education Coalition)

Yes, I have to keep explaining this to people because it seems so incredible-- the state of PA has a payment system for charters that doesn't factor in anything about what it actually costs the charters to educate students. The legislature has set it up so that charters like the ones in Chester can pick up a minimum of $15,000 pure profit.

You may remember a time when a selling point for charters was that they would do more with less. That has never been the case in PA-- charters promise to do whatever they feel like with as much money as they can get. PA is a textbook demonstration of how charter schools increase the overall cost of education. Here's how it works.

We start with a public school classroom that educates 10 students for $10,000. One of those students leaves for a charter. At the charter, they know that they get the 1 grand no matter what, so their goal is to spend as little of it as possible on the student's education. Meanwhile, the public schools revenue has dropped by $1,000, and its costs have dropped not at all, so it goes back to the taxpayers and raises taxes, or if it's really strapped, it reduces services.

End result-- the taxpayers of Pennsylvania end up spending more total money on education, and getting less for it. That's how we're doing it in the Keystone State.

The ruling in the CUSD case underlines just how huge the windfall for charter operators can be (and for cyber charters, who don't have brick-and-mortar overhead and who can assign a single teacher to several hundred students, can really clean up). This is how guys like Vahan Gureghian end up with $85 million mansions.

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