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Philadelphia should fear a charter takeover of York City schools

By Ron Whitehorne on Dec 22, 2014 02:05 PM

In spite of opposition from York City’s elected school board, York's school district is on the verge of being turned over lock, stock, and barrel to a for-profit charter operator with ties to Florida Republicans Gov. Rick Scott and former Gov. Jeb Bush.

The York City School District has been under state control since 2012, when Gov. Corbett's administration put the district in receivership, appointing David Meckley, a local businessman, as chief recovery officer. Meckley has pressed an austerity program, which includes cutbacks to school budgets, teacher layoffs, and union concessions.

York's school board drew the line at his proposal to privatize the entire district. The board tabled this measure, citing a lack of evidence that the proposed charter operator, Charter Schools U.S.A., would do better than the existing administration. The Pennsylvania Department of Education has gone to court to compel the local school board to implement the charter takeover. A decision is expected this week.

York, like other poor school districts around the state, has suffered from cuts in state funding amounting to $8.5 million, or 15 percent of the district’s budget, since Corbett took office, according to the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the state branch of the National Education Association, the country's largest labor union.

None of the District’s eight schools made the state’s threshold for successful performance, something many find unsurprising given the budget crisis.

“The school district is right about where you’d expect it to be when you have an urban school district serving an impoverished population that’s already been decimated by Corbett’s budget cuts," said Wythe Keever, PSEA's assistant communications director, to Al Jazeera America. "Corbett starved the schools and then blamed the school district.”

Corbett, whose re-election bid was heavily funded by charter school interests, leaves office next month, but seems determined to give the charter operators a parting Christmas gift in the form of a contract to run York schools for five to 15 years, something that legal experts think the Wolf administration would be unable to undo.

Wolf has publicly opposed the plan and believes the authority of the local board should be respected.  

Charter Schools U.S.A.

Charter Schools U.S.A. is a large, for-profit charter school management organization. Most of its schools are in Florida, but it also operates schools in a half-dozen other states. Chief executive Jonathan Hage  previously worked as research director for Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Florida’s Future and served on Gov. Scott’s education transition team. Hage, who has no schools-based background in education, described in 2002 his decision to jump into the charter business to the St. Petersburg Times as "a classic business opportunity" with "lots of demand and very little supply."

Like many for-profit operators, the company skirts laws that require charters to be nonprofit by getting charters to contract out management to them. The modus operandi of the corporate charters in Florida, according to an investigation by the St. Petersburg Times, involves creating nonprofit charters that contract out all services to a for-profit operator. The investigation found little evidence to support Hage’s claim of community support for these charters.

What is happening in York demonstrates that for much of the charter school movement and its political supporters, the goal is corporatizing education. Instead of a public education system that is democratically controlled with the obligation to provide a "thorough and efficient" education as required by the state’s constitution, we have education run for profit by business people with minimal accountability to the public. 

Philadelphia at a crossroads

With the floodgates for charter expansion opening in Philadelphia, and the School District facing yet another deficit, we should fear that what is happening in York could happen here in one form or another.   

The charter school industry is evolving with the likelihood that the small mom-and-pop operators will be marginalized and a large market share of charter schools going to the emerging national and regional companies like KIPP, Mastery, and ASPIRA. Anthony Hardy Williams, the odds-on favorite in the mayor's race, at least among announced candidates, is a strong charter supporter.  

Only a powerful mobilization by the communities that are dependent on public education, along with unions, who face continuing attrition as the charter sector grows, can hope to close down the floodgates. 

The Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools is calling for a moratorium on charter school expansion, citing the pervasiveness of fraud and the absence of serious regulation. Clearly there are other reasons to oppose charter expansion, including the draining of resources from traditional public schools and the lack of equity in the two-tiered education system that the charter law has created. 

Public schools need to be transformed. Sustainable community schools that empower parents and community allies, respect their unionized workforce, provide wrap-around services, positive behavior supports, and an engaging curriculum are an alternative to both charters and the resource-starved, bureaucratic District schools we now have. As we fight charter expansion we need to simultaneously lift up this alternative and fight for the funding to make it real.


Ron Whitehorne is a retired teacher and a coordinator for the Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools (PCAPS).

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author.



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Comments (27)

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on December 22, 2014 3:14 pm


As always, your commentary is right on the money -- so to speak. 

Thank you Ron for all you do for our community and the schoolchildren of Philadelphia. It is a pleasure to have come to know such a dedicated educator and public servant. Without selfless leaders like you, the purposeful destruction of public education would go on unchallenged. We all should be aware of what is really going on and the insidious games being played by the money and power brokers.

Charter Schools USA has never had any credibility and neither does the Corbett administration. That is why the People of Pennsylvania voted him out. 

It is all about and only about -- the money-go-round.



Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 24, 2014 7:35 am

I work at a charter school and this plan in York is insane. One of the key ideas of charter schools is choice for parents and this plan doesn't create more choice, it simply replaces a district monopoly with a monopoly of schools run by a private organization. This plan isn't about creating more charter schools, it's about a distrit take-over with the closest Philly analogy being the original Edison plan when the SRC first started. That was a bad idea and so is this. The reason an outfit like Charter Schools USA, that no one has ever heard of and has no PA track record, is up for doing this is because any reputable local charter organization has run away from this plan as fast as they could.



Submitted by Lisa Haver on December 22, 2014 5:31 pm

Good commentary, Ron.  Thank you.

Submitted by Read your history... (not verified) on December 22, 2014 6:06 pm
Our country fought a horrific war over exactly this premise, for profit entities which enrich themselves primarily through children. Adding greater injury yet is the focus of these charters on African American children. It may be hard for some of us to make an economuc connection, however, plantations were stand alone corporations with little regard to community. Hence, a cry for secession was always present. God help us.
Submitted by Franklin Templeton (not verified) on December 23, 2014 4:24 am

Yes it is hard for me to connect the Civil War with big business.  Carnegie, Rockefeller, JP Morgan, Vanderbilt, etc. came after the War.  Another war was fought because of "taxation without representation" (and voters being  taxed to fund union pensions just gave the GOP some big election victories).     In 1773 they  dumped a shipload of tea into Boston Harbor to protest the tea tax.  But underfunding of schools can be traced to more recent events.  The first was ERISA in 1974 which allowed cities and schools to not fund their pension plans and kick the can down the road.  The next  event was the "voter revolt" in Calif. which resulted in the passage of Prop. 13 in 1978 which limited how much property taxes could be raised.   Starting in 1980, public pension funds began to invest more of their money in stocks instead of bonds, which generated higher yields but put more risk on school budgets.   In 1995 we were in the middle of the "dot-com" boom and greedy unions assumed the bubble-bull market would go on forever.  This was followed by two huge stock market busts in 2000 and 2008, and schools need to brace for the next big stock market drop because that's where the pension money is invested.    

Submitted by Read your history... (not verified) on December 23, 2014 9:51 am
Dear Mr. Templeton, allow me to congratulate you on your diversionary rhetoric. Nontheless, the article raises alarm to a hand over of a public concern to a for profit enterprise which in turn will still be financed through the public. Now that is the paradigm of taxation without representation. The gentlemen you cite had many virtues yet one common vice, oligarchy. The major charter operators are reading their playbook and are probably baffled by the opposition they are confronting and thus, seeking judicial imposition, like the Tories, Monarchists and other regurgitated spirits that (you) they are. I do agree with you on one issue, the PREDESIGNED swindle of stock market manipulation known as the boom-bust cycle needs to come to an end. Again, this predatory aventure into public education is animated by a secessionist spirit. I do not expect you to share my study of the matter yet I insist that a Sales Tax on Wall Street is the best remedy their indiscriminate trading, speculation instead of actual production.
Submitted by Franklin Templeton (not verified) on December 23, 2014 5:41 pm

I'd love to talk history with you but what is causing our public schools to crumble is faulty investment mathematics--i.e. Bernie Madoff math.  It sounds pretty simple but teachers and union leaders simply don't get it, or like Las Vegas gamblers, think they can beat the odds. Check out the NVPers website, which holds the pension fund for Nevada, another state with severe budget problems.   The fund assumes a Madoff 8% return.  So how are the fund managers trying to get 8% when a one year cd at your bank pays ZERO interest?   They invest in a risky mix of stocks, bonds, derivatives, real estate, and private equity.  What happens when fund managers can't do what Mr. Madoff promised his investors?  The money to pay pensions comes out of school budgets.   Why should we pay more tax "for the kids" until there's pension reform?    Incidentally, those hedge funds that the teachers' pension fund invests in put their money in alternative investments like gunmakers, shady real estate deals and payday lenders that charge minority borrowers 700% interest.  

Submitted by j (not verified) on December 27, 2014 4:39 pm
No, why theres a funding crisis is due to system players and mistakes. For example retirement: A teacher who was 28 when they began started as substitute teachers for a year and got 1 credit, they then got hired on full time and worked as a $55,000 teacher for about 20 years (working 190 days ayear but counts for the same as the 260 day employees) then for a year they become a $70,000 assistant principal, and for a period of 3 years they get a high school principle job at $90,000,and then for their final five years they are ass. superintendent at $155,000. They then will base their retirement off the best 3 years. So regardless of the fact they made $90k or under for 25 years,their base retirement will be $116,250 due to having a very high salary for five years.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 24, 2014 1:16 am

The Civil War was big business. There were three millionaires in the U.S. in 1861 at the start of the war. Four years later, when it ended, there were 300 millionaires.


Submitted by Diane Payne (not verified) on December 22, 2014 6:57 pm

Great commentary.  The choice:  an unproven charter experiment (with so far dismal results) that enrich and enpower a few adults or a democratic public education system that benefits ALL children??  I, for one, will not give up on one of the cornerstones of our democracy...Public Schools for all children. 


Submitted by j (not verified) on December 27, 2014 4:15 pm
Remember the charters will also be interesting since they pick and choose which students they accept. Their staff doesnt require the same certification as public schools. And spec ed wont be in their buildings.
Submitted by Read your history... (not verified) on December 22, 2014 7:58 pm
These "charter" operators should first prove the validity of their for profit "curriculum" by perfecting their practice on their own children and neighborhood s FIRST... Of course we know that much like the mafia, they never subject their own children to the vices they peddle. All of this is industral size "blame the victim" strategy when one has no domestic policy in mind nor heart.
Submitted by anon (not verified) on December 22, 2014 8:32 pm

philadelphia public education is dying a death of a thousand cuts.  jerry jordan made a fatal error in strategy by not confronting the charter school reform movement when it first appeared on the scene.  instead, he played defense, ceding ground at every impasse.  while our opponents grow stronger and bolder, we have shriveled up, hemorraging massive numbers of jobs and allowing the "reform movement/"  to dictate the rules going forward.  

say a prayer for public education and will the last unionized teacher in philadelphia turn out the lights when you leave.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 22, 2014 11:34 pm

He was following orders from Randi Weingarten!

Submitted by j (not verified) on December 27, 2014 4:42 pm
If the "public school light" is turned out and it becomes all charter make sure you let all special education students and disabled staff members know where they need to go. Charter schools dont like or prefer to accept them. If forced to they will start the year with them but they will segregate them to make thosr students want to quit and go somewhere else or drop out.
Submitted by Jerrold Hivner (not verified) on December 22, 2014 8:48 pm

Here we go again. Another angry Republican-hating, union-loving, status-quo defending, well meaning, but intellectually bankrupt contributer.  Do you think those who enjoy the benefits of charter school really care whether Rick Scott and Jeb Bush support charter schools?  And, if so, how would these men profit? 

Submitted by Read your history... (not verified) on December 22, 2014 8:11 pm
To my dear defeatist friend, Slavery ended in part as it ran out of land to expand. Slavery was parasitic in nature. These charter operators are much the same. Please understabd, Unions are confronting an alliance of parasites, judges, mayors, presidents, media, clergy, bankers, and haters. I will not be turning out the light, rather many of us are trying to shed some light on defeatists like yourself.
Submitted by Franklin Templeton (not verified) on December 23, 2014 4:49 am

What history text did you read that from?  Slavery would have come to an end no matter what, because after the war wealth would be coming from industries like steel and oil and not from the ownership of land.  Watch the great series "The Ascent of Money" on you-tube, where Prof. Niall Ferguson relates how landowners in Britain saw their fortunes decline after 1860.   Even in the movie "10 years a Slave" Michael Fassbender faces ruin because he has big expenses running his plantation (including having to feed and house his slaves) that he can't pay.  

Submitted by Read your history... (not verified) on December 23, 2014 6:27 am
Dear Mr. Templeton, Slavery, in short is an economic model that as you well allude to is NOT self sustaining. Charter opertors, which are for profit are not self sustaining given their need for expansion of market and LAND. In contrast, countless PUBLIC SCHOOLS remain in the same plot of land in which they were built for generations. They have no desire for expansion rather service. I give the charter operators another five, seven years. Their end will be similar to the Savings and Loan swindle of the 1980s. You suggest I read my history, I do. Great Britain abolished slavery certainly, however they were too happy to aid, and finance the South while promoting the secessionist cause in Europe. Please keep present that the traitor Jefferson Davis' finance minister was a British citizen. Likewise, keep in mind that slavery based France and Spain took advantage of the Civil War to invade the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America with the hope of EXPANDING SLAVERY. Tax Wall Street, they do not pay ANY sales tax for their indiscriminate buying and selling of anything, including our children.
Submitted by Franklin Templeton (not verified) on December 23, 2014 5:31 pm

If Wall Street is evil, then PSERS should get out of the stock market and only invest in treasury bonds that pay 2.5%.  However that would mean that firemen, cops, and teachers would have to be given 401K plans and of course that will never happen, although in San Diego new employees except cops get 401K's.   Drawing an analogy between charter schools, poor minority families and slavery in the 1800's is a stretch--especially given the huge entitlements that those minorities expect from the feds.  The history that I'm familiar with (which is mentioned in "The Ascent of Money" documentary) is that reps from the Confederacy went to Europe during the Civil War to ask for help from the Rothschilds and from Great Britain.   The Rothschilds concluded that loaning money to the Confederacy was too risky.  Great Britain was considering helping the South but changed their minds after the battle of Antietam--a very bloody battle where it became clear that the war would be long and costly.   Many historians think that for this reason Antietam had more significance to the outcome of the war than Gettysburg. 

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 22, 2014 9:31 pm
Initially, charter schools allowed community members and small community based organizations the opportunity to provide public education in under served areas to under served students. This movement helped to establish schools that were free from district politics and bureaucracy. This allowed many small and minority businesses to compete for contracts that were out of reach in the district. The recent corporate push has attacked these charters, as well as district neighborhood schools. The same individuals getting rich on the backs of black and brown children are the same as they were 15 years ago. They have only found a different mechanism to cash in. Sadly, the real carpet baggers are not being called to task. They have set up a scenario where groups of activists who initially worked to support and change urban education are being pitted against one another. It happened during reconstruction, the civil rights movement and it's happening now. Until we face the real enemy, we will continue to fight over crumbs from the overseer'overseer's table.
Submitted by Franklin Templeton (not verified) on December 23, 2014 3:21 am

Another editorial from a union promoter, and not one mention of what's destroying public schools--$66 billion of unfunded pension liabilities.  At least be honest like Janet Napolitano, who said that tuition is going up 25% at UC to fund pensions if she doesn't get $100 million more from the state.  That's extortion but at least she's not trying to lie and say that the money is "for the kids".  

Submitted by Read your history... (not verified) on December 23, 2014 7:19 am
Extortion, how would you describe a party that is not contributing to an agreement with another party who has, is and will continue to contribute to an agreed fund while exacerbating the situation by handing out tax breaks, tax abatements to precisely those whom deride the one party that is making their contributions? Many words come to mind... All rotate around a mother word, -swindle.
Submitted by Franklin Templeton (not verified) on December 23, 2014 6:23 pm

When that party (teachers) collectively bargained to get an agreed upon generous retiremen package in return for an 8% agreed upon deduction from their pay they should have known that their agreed upon db pensions put unlimited stock market risk on schools so they really can't complain about the budget cuts to schools.   Schools also have to deal with actuarial risk because it's hard to agree upon when you're going to die and stop receiveing your agreed upon pension payments.  

Submitted by Franklin Templeton (not verified) on December 23, 2014 6:24 pm

I just saw the latest post on  In 2027, the teachers' pension fund of NJ will run out of money, so any teacher expecting to retire on or after that year needs to consider alternative sources of income.  PSERS is in similar straits.   In Illinois 20,000 teachers may be fired because the courts rejected pension reform.   Busted teachers' pension funds is a bigger issue than common core, iPads, or charters but the union people including Randi Weingarten think that ignoring the problem will cause it to go away.    

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 23, 2014 6:55 pm

You're the one who is ignoring reality!

New Jersey Paid Fees To Mary Pat Christie's Firm After State Investment Was Terminated


Interview: David Sirota on New Jersey’s Risky Pension Investments

$14 Million An Hour: War Costs Top $1.6 Trillion Since 9/11, Say Congressional Researchers

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