Monday, August 5, 2019

PA: Governor Calls Charters Private, Makes Advocacy Group Sad

When Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf trotted out his budget last month, he made it a point to note that he was raising money for public schools-- and that he had some definite ideas about which schools are public and which schools are not.

He wants to see more of those basic education dollars to school districts get distributed through the state’s fair funding formula. He also wants to address concerns related to cyber charter schools, which he referred to as “the growing cost of privatization of education in our public schools.”

And just in case that wasn't clear enough, a press release from the governor's office was even more direct:

Pennsylvania must help school districts struggling with the problem of increasing amounts of school funding siphoned by private cyber and charter schools. Funding reform would increase transparency so all schools that receive state dollars are accountable to the taxpayers.

This made Ana Meyers sad.

This lady
Meyers is the current executive director of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public [sic] Charter Schools. She has previously worked as "Director of Legislative Affairs" for LeadingAge PA (an advocacy group for aging services providers) as well as PA Field Director for Libertarian advocacy group, FreedomWorks. Before that she co-chaired the Kitchen Table Patriots, a Tea Party group in southeastern PA, and before that sales and marketing for the likes of Nickelodeon and American Airlines. Her degrees are in business. In short, she has virtually no background or expertise in education, but does have a long-standing experience in arguing that government services should be privatized. This is not new for PCPCS-- their previous chief's experience was as PR head for Westinghouse.

Meyers has been in the charter schools biz for just over two years, but that's plenty long enough to learn the current talking point-- "charter schools are public because they are paid with public tax dollars." This is baloney. But it's popular baloney with privatizers because it's hard to convince people that public education should be privatized-- much easier to get them to change the definition of "public." So privatizers from the Governor of Florida to the Secretary of Education are arguing repeatedly that "public" does not mean what you think it means, even as they hope you will keep believing that it means what it's always meant, because then you will assume that charter schools have certain features that they do not have.

And so Meyers expressed her sadness.

“I am shocked that you and your staff are unaware that none of Pennsylvanian’s charter schools [brick-and-mortar or cyber] are private or for-profit institutions,” states the letter signed by Ana Meyers, executive director of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools, the state’s largest organization representing charter schools.

“I would have thought that a governor who has championed public education like you have over the past four-plus years would know better. I believe that you would have a much better understanding of how charter schools operate in Pennsylvania if you took the time to visit a few of them.”

Baloney. Pennsylvania's charter schools are not public. They are not owned by the public. They are not run by elected representatives of the taxpayers. They are under no obligation to serve all students who are members of the public. They do not operate with public transparency. They are not public schools, and the governor is exactly correct to say so. Nor would visiting the actual schools reveal any of those characteristics.

Meyers doesn't have an argument here-- just an assertion. This has been the charter industry's tactic-- just keep using the word, claiming the word, demanding the word, and even getting your advocates to insert the word in the language of charter laws. But you can insist that your pig is a cow all day-- when you butcher it, you'll still be eating pork. We can have a conversation about whether or not charters are an educational benefit, whether they can deliver on their promises, and if they should be part of the educational landscape (and under what conditions). But there is no discussion to be had about whether or not they're public-- they aren't.

If you are in Pennsylvania, drop Governor Wolf a line and tell him that he got this one absolutely right, and that he is also right to ignore letters from high-paid mouthpieces who serve as advocacy professionals, but education amateurs.

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