When All Else Fails, Cash In: Charter Schools as Miracle Cure

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Do you believe in miracles?

If you live in York, Pennsylvania – you’d better.

Still hurting from $1 billion in statewide education cuts, York City School directors are considering giving their entire district over to a failing charter operator. This would make it the first all charter district in PA.

It’s the kind of decision that no rational individual would normally even entertain. My school doesn’t have enough funding so I should give it to a company to run for-profit!?

Oh! That ALWAYS works!

Such a boneheaded idea could only be proposed by a government bureaucrat. Enter David Meckley, the district’s state-appointed chief recovery officer.

Tasked with guiding the district’s financial recovery, Meckley developed a plan that leads to charter conversion if monetary and academic goals are not met.

Let me get this straight.

Back in 2012, Gov. Corbett cut $8.4 million – over 15% – from York’s budget. To cope, the district cuts the arts, student services, increased class sizes, etc. And now we’re calling the school a “failure” simply because it couldn’t survive the funding cuts deemed necessary by the state.

Reminds me of a bully shouting, “Why are you hitting yourself!?” as he slaps a little kid in the face with the child’s own hands!

So, to review, the same people who hobbled the district in the first place by slashing its funding are responsible for fixing the problem they created. And their solution is to give up. Give the schools to someone else to run.

Q: What was the straw that broke the camels back? What was the final factor that convinced Meckley it’s charter time?

A: School directors can’t agree to a new teachers contract.

Of course! Those greedy teachers asking for a fair wage for a fair day’s work! How dare they!? Don’t they know the district is suffering from a manufactured crisis!?

Do doctor’s ask to be paid for working in poor neighborhoods? Do lawyers work exclusively pro bono to defend poor clients?

Of course not! They’ve got to earn a living! They’re freakin’ professionals after all! Not like these.. yuck! …teachers!

Okay, so the public sector can’t miraculously get blood from a stone. How will a for-profit company be able to succeed where democratically-elected school directors have failed?

The short answer: charters can fire the entire staff and rehire teachers at a lower rate. Yep. Cheap labor! That’s bound to increase the quality of kids’ educations!

Everyone knows the lower the salary, the better the service. That’s why NFL players are all on food stamps. It’s why the most luxurious hotels charge the least for a room! Want a good, Michelin star meal? Welcome to McDonalds, my foodie friends!

For Meckley there’s really only one question to consider. “What’s best for our kids?” he asked at a recent board meeting.

It’s hilarious he can even say that with a straight face! How could reducing teachers’ salaries be best for kids!? That means the most talented and experienced educators will leave for greener pastures. The kids will be left with only the most substandard teachers who have no choice but to accept whatever crumbs charter operators deign to throw their way.

Imagine that happening at a rich school. Imagine that happening at the (private) schools where President Obama or Bill Gates send their kids.

Ha! They demand the best for their children – as they should. But when it comes to your kids and mine – let them eat cake!

Let’s get something straight: most charter schools are not about academic excellence. They’re about high profit margins. Period.

Politicians and corporate school reformers rhapsodize about the power of the free market to cure all the ills of our school system. But from a market point of view, it makes sense to provide the most substandard product possible that parents will still allow their children to endure. The less money spent on the actual job of educating children, the more money to boost the bottom line.

Don’t believe me? Check out the two charter companies vying for a chance to take over York Schools: Charter Schools USA and Mosaica Education.

Charter Schools USA

“Floridian of the Year!” That’s what Florida Trend business magazine calls CEO of Charter USA Jonathan Hage. The rest of us would just call him a douchebag.

Hage probably considers himself some kind of pirate or profiteer. In fact, he brazenly advertises where he gets his precious booty by naming his yacht “Fishin’ 4 Schools.” That’s clever! Morally repugnant, sure! But clever!

To pay for it, he found a new revenue stream that’s just this side of legal. Charter Schools USA is the largest seller of charter school debt in the country. “It will sell $100 million worth of bonds this year, Hage says. … The bonds come with tax-exempt status because they are technically held by the nonprofit founding boards that oversee the schools.” Over a three-year period, the company made closer to $200 million.

So York Schools are considering bettering their financial predicament by giving their district to a company engaging in the same kinds of risky monetary practices that crashed our economy not even a decade ago. Run up debt, then sell it to others tax free! That’s not exactly a prescription for sound fiscal management.

Mosaica Education

This company has a string of scandals that go back decades. Let’s just look at some of the most recent.

  • In 2006, Mosaica was forced to end its contract to run Lafayette Academy Charter School in New Orleans, Louisiana, because it failed to align its curriculum to state standards, provide after-school programs for students below grade level and organize transportation to and from the school. The charter even ended up paying Mosaica $100,000 for early termination of the contract!
  • In 2009, Mosaica-run Howard Road Academy leaked a copy of the DC-CAS standardized test to two teachers, who then distributed copies of the test to their students prior to exam day. One administrator and two teachers were fired.
  • In 2012, Mosaica botched a situation similar to the one they may enter in York, PA. The company was contracted to manage a public school that had just been turned into a charter district in Muskegon Heights, Michigan. Prior to contracting with Mosaica, the emergency manager of the struggling district, Donald Weatherspoon, had fired the entire staff. Mosaica had “three months to hire and train staff members, including those rehired from the old district, bring neglected facilities up to code, and persuade parents to keep their children enrolled.” The school’s first principal quit within the first month and, within 3 months, a quarter of the teachers hired by Mosaica in the summer had left the district. According to Education Week, “the largest single proportion [of teachers who left the district]—28 percent—cited the charter district’s lack of participation in Michigan’s public school employee retirement plan as the reason [for leaving].” Helluva job!
  • As of 2013, Mosaica did such great work running Atlanta Preparatory Academy, the charter ranked in the bottom 20% of schools in Georgia. Atlanta Public Schools recommended that the state not renew the school’s charter. They were also concerned that the charter school’s board lacked sufficient independence because it owed $801,384 to Mosaica!

Read closely, York taxpayers. These are the people you’re being asked to invite to manage your school district! It just makes sense. Foxes make such excellent hen house guards!

Perhaps more disturbing, though, is the Tom Wolf connection.

The Democratic challenger to Gov. Corbett in the November election is a York resident and knows all parties involved too darn well.

Wolf eventually (reluctantly?) came out against turning York into a charter district but was too cozy with those involved, even calling Meckley, “my good friend.

Moreover, Wolf’s chief financial officer for his business and his campaign treasurer, Michael Newsome, served on the work group that recommended converting York to an all charter district. But don’t worry. Wolf says he disagrees with this trusted advisor, as well.

If you really disagree so much, Tom, why have you surrounded yourself with privatizers and profiteers!?

The Democrat seems poised to an easy victory over a certainly more radical Corbett, but let’s hope we don’t have another Wolf in Progressive clothing!

In any case, charterization is a terrible idea.

Turning public schools into charter schools will not solve any problems. It will only make them worse. There is no proof that charters as a whole are any better than public schools. In fact, as we’ve seen, there is plenty evidence to show that charters are much worse.

Yet despite this dismal track record, when public schools struggle, politicians and corporate school reformers keep suggesting charters are the only answer.

We need to look at the source of the problem. Our schools are being starved of funding through the reduction of tax revenue. When the state and federal government refuse to make the richest pay their fair share of taxes, the burden of funding our schools falls to the local taxpayer. In rich districts, this is fine. They can just raise taxes. However in poorer districts like York, this is unsustainable. Putting aside the issue of fairness, it’s impossible to raise local taxes where there is no tax base capable of supporting it.

In any sane country, the shortfall would be taken up by the state and federal government. Education is a right, after all, not a privilege. All schools should have adequate, equitable and sustainable school funding – not just the rich ones.

One wonders if this situation would be allowed to continue if there weren’t people making a mint off the suffering of our school children.

Do what’s best for our kids? Certainly. But it isn’t a charter school miracle.

Enough cashing in on our kids educations. As a nation, we need to grow up, put on our big boy pants and pay for shit. You want to live in a country that leads the world in innovation, industry, freedom and happiness? You want to live in a country that educates it’s children – all it’s children?

Then it’s time we force the rich to reach for their wallets and stop blaming us for being robbed by the policies they’ve bought and sold.

Class Warfare begins in the classroom.


As a result of this article, I was invited on the Rick Smith Show for an interview.

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