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Posing as Reform in Pennsylvania

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Pennsylvania State Rep. James Roebuck (D-Philadelphia) is not an honest broker. With more than $50,000 in contributions each year from the city’s teachers unions, the public should know that the reform bill he is backing for charter schools is about destroying, not reforming; about raising up the status quo, not real reform of our schools.

His reports and allegations, of widespread problems in charter schools across the state, are misleading and plain wrong. For example, he alleges that most charter boards have conflicts of interest with those with whom they work or depend for services. But that would also suggest that the largest employer in the school system is riddled with conflicts. Who isn’t related to a teacher or a child or a board member or a vendor in any district? Everyone with a pulse has overlapping interests. The only time it’s a conflict is when their views and their work is at odds with what’s good for kids.

Conflict of interest is code for keep charter schools small and insignificant. Demands from opponents for accountability is code for shut them down.

The charters are efficient, effective, albeit underfunded public schools that are oversubscribed and, in most cases, achieving above and beyond the traditional public schools.

Why would you try to save money on schools that are already underfunded and over subscribed? Why not save money on schools that are failing on a system that has a larger administrator/adult -student ratio than most comparable districts?

Philadelphia District:
15-to-1 teachers to students
655 administrators making over $100,000/dollars a year! (100 of who are teachers)
2980 in total all education administrators — Average salary is $104K

There are about 150,000 students in district public schools – 50 students for every administrator! A charter school survives with half as many administrators – an average of 100 kids for every administrator! Philadelphia imposed a cap on enrollment that is in violation of the state charter school law. Despite the fact that 50,000 students are on charter school waiting lists in the City of Brotherly love.

Roebuck’s efforts, and those of many of his colleagues, seek to put more state and district strings on charters in an alleged effort to make them more accountable. If the state and local education agency control were the answer to solving how best to educate kids, we would not have or need charter schools or any reform to begin with. The states and local districts are not school creators. They are rules creators. They are in business to manage and regulate, not to design and educate.

That’s why the only kind of reform that’s necessary in the charter arena in PA today is a change to the law that permits independent multiple authorizers, like public universities, to create and monitor charter schools. High quality authorizers outside of the traditional school entities yield high quality, highly accountable charters. Just look at Central Michigan University and the State University of New York as two examples.

We hope that Harrisburg will step up to the plate and show leadership on this important issue. The opponents are sharpening their knives in the name of reform. Nothing could be more disingenuous than calling their attack “reform.”

by Jeanne Allen