Monday, January 5, 2015

Dear Pennsylvania Governor-Elect Wolf

Asking Tom Wolf to do the right thing for York, PA school children

(Background:  A judge in Pennsylvania has ruled that the State can proceed with its plan to turn the public schools of York, Pennsylvania over to a receiver, David Meckley. Meckley, A York businessman with no background in education was appointed to oversee the district when it fell into financial difficulty as a result of the draconian budget cuts foist upon it by Governor Tom Corbett.  Meckley has already announced that he plans to turn the district over to the for-profit company Charter Schools USA.)

Because I was a (small time) contributor to the successful campaign for Pennsylvania Governor by Tom Wolf, I received an email survey about the Wolf campaign. At the end of the survey I was asked what I would like to say to the Governor. With the battle for public education being starkly played out in Wolf's hometown, York, PA, I decided to tell him this.

Dear Governor-elect Wolf,

I supported your campaign for governor because I believed strongly that you offered Pennsylvanians a better option when it came to public education. As fate would have it you have been presented with the opportunity to demonstrate your commitment to public education in the earliest days of your administration. I urge you to stop the corporate takeover of public schools in your hometown of York, PA.

As you know, a recent judge's ruling has turned the fate of the school children of York over to a receiver who is committed to bringing in a for-profit company, Charter Schools USA, to run the schools. Such a move would be bad for the bedrock American value of local control of public education and would be bad for the school children of York.

The public schools of York were thrown into financial difficulties by the policies of the Corbett administration and also by Pennsylvania's antiquated property tax system that puts an undue burden on urban school districts and families. The crisis in York schools is in no way reflective of the quality of the schools, the teachers or the school children of York.

For profit charter operations, like all for-profit companies, are in business to make money. Profit motivations supersede educational needs. A for-profit take over of the schools of York will make children into a cost to be controlled, rather than a gift to be cherished and nurtured. Profit motives and educational motives do not mix.

Even a cursory look at the history of for-profit takeovers should provide a cautionary tale. The first all charter school district in the country was in Muskegon Heights, Michigan. The for-profit company failed and negotiated its way out of its contract when it found that running the schools "did not meet their profit profile." For more on Muskegon Heights, see this article by my colleague Peter Greene.

You may also want to do a little background background research on Charter Schools USA. My colleague, Mercedes Schneider has taken a look at what Charter School USA's employees have to say about the company here. You may also want to read about Charter School USA's relationship with at least one school district in Florida here or what blogger Bob Sikes has discovered about the luxurious lifestyle of Charter Schools USA CEO, Jonathan Hage.

So, Governor-elect Wolf, as you move into office, I will be looking for decisive action on your part to stop the war on democracy in York and for a return of local control of the schools in the community. I will then be looking for a budget proposal that will help the public schools get back on their fiscal feet, so that they can provide the education for York children that they already know how to provide, but that they have not had the resources to provide thanks to unreasonable budget cuts and a poor tax structure.

This is your first big test as my governor. I will be watching how you proceed.