Push back against Charter Schools- Write a letter TONIGHT!

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“No child should be harmed so another child can be helped.”

This is what Donna Cooper, executive director of PCCY, wrote earlier this week about the 39 Charter School applications which the SRC will be voting on this Wednesday, February 18th at 3:30pm.

The pressure is growing for the SRC to vote down these charter school applications and support public, neighborhood schools. As Philadelphia educators, parents, and community members, we can make it clear that Philadelphia supports strengthening its public schools- rather than putting scarce resources into a new round of financially and pedagogically questionable charters. 

If you haven't written a letter yet to the SRC opposing one of the charter schools threatening your school or neighborhood, the deadline to submit letters is tomorrow at noon. Take a look at our step-by-step instructions (including analysis and criticism provided by the district's own Charter School Office), and then make sure to send your letter to src@philasd.org and contact@workingeducators.org so we can keep track of how many letters were sent.

Then, please spread this action in any education and parent networks you have. We've been hearing that parent email lists around the city are blowing up with parents opposes to these new charters- let's make sure they know that we're taking action!

Want some inspiration? The letters that have already been written and submitted show a deep love for the students and communities that make our public schools so special. Take a look, and then write your own today!

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How to Protect your School and Neighborhood from Charter Takeover

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On Monday, the School District announced that it would be voting on the 39 charter applications next Wednesday, 2/18. The slots to speak at that meeting have already filled up, but the district is still accepting public comment until noon on Monday 2/16.

We think that the best chance we have to influence the outcome of the charter vote is to provide specific, detailed objections to charters that are threatening the zip codes where we live and work.

Doubtful? Check out the charter application analysis reports -- the district did NOT play nice in their critiques of the holes in the applications. If you don't feel like combing through the reports one by one, take this quiz to see some of the harsh words the evaluators had for different proposals.

Reading the reports, it's also clear that the board played close attention to how much support was given for individual schools -- and also whether that support was authentic or cookie-cutter. (Independence Charter got a note in their report that they sent 100 letters... but that they were a form letter.)


We're looking to send at least 500 individualized letters to the SRC by next Monday.

Charter Letter Instruction Kit

To participate, do two things:

1. Download the instructions and follow them.

2. Collect the letters and e-mail them to both SRC@philasd.org and contact@workingeducators.org. No number is too small (or too large)! If you can get your whole school on board by calling a letter-writing session before report card conferences on Thursday, AWESOME. If you are a parent and you can get two neighbors to write, great. If there's no school targeting your zip codes, go one zip code over or write about a neighborhood that matters to you.

Remember, this is NOT a campaign against all charter applications together -- we already published that letter. Instead, we are asking you to take a look at which school(s) are near your home and work, explore what critiques were made of their applications by the district, and then write the educated, thoughtful commentary that the district and potentially the charter appeal board in Harrisburg need to hear.

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Announcing our Opt Out Toolkit

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Solidarity from Chicago: check out the resolution above that the Chicago Teachers Union passed in support of teachers at Feltonville School of Arts and Sciences! The opt out movement has strength.

What information can you send on to families who haven't been educated about their opt out rights yet? With parent-teacher conferences just around the corner, check out our brand-new...

Opt Out Organizing Toolkit

Tool Kit Includes:

  • Opt out flyers
  • Informational flyers about opt out
  • Sample press release
  • Press contact list
  • Sample PSSA & Keystone problems for Test-Ins

Remember -- all of these tools are legal, and schools are required by law to provide their families with information on how to opt out.

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Philly Teachers, Professors, Parents and Community Urge SRC to "Stop the 40 Charters"

Want to help in the work to "Stop the 40 Charters"? Email membership@workingeducators.org to join our Organizing Committee!

 

January 29, 2015 

Commissioner William J. Green, Chair

Commissioner Feather Houstoun

Commissioner Farah Jimenez

Commissioner Marjorie Neff

Commissioner Sylvia Simms

Philadelphia School Reform Commission

440 North Broad Street

Suite 101

Philadelphia, PA 191230

 

Re: Charter School Applications

 

Dear Commissioners Green, Houstoun, Jimenez, Neff, and Simms, 

We are a group of Philadelphia educators, community members and parents who would like to testify about the 40 applications for new charter schools that your body is reviewing. We operate on the premise that the goal is for all public schools to provide an excellent, equitable and holistic educational environment for all children. Thus, we implore you not to approve any more charter schools to open in our city at this time.

Looking at finances alone, opening more charters is not a sensible option for our already cash-starved district. As former School Reform Commissioner Joseph Dworetzky has noted in his recent post in The Notebook, the district loses $5,500 per student when they transfer to a charter, and $10,000 per student when they transfer from a parochial or independent school, for an average loss of $7,000 per student. According to Dworetzky, rather than going towards supporting our schools, taxpayer dollars go towards mitigating this loss. In an era where we are already operating on a severe budget deficit, we cannot risk the loss of any more money or resources for our students and teachers.

Academically, existing data about the benefits to a student attending a charter school versus a traditional public school are inconclusive, as are data about student transfer or dropout rate from charter schools, according to a recent report by Public Citizens for Children and Youth (PCCY). Looking at the organizations that have applied to open charter schools in Philadelphia, PCCY notes that the charter schools that these organizations already operate do not reflect the demographic of traditional public schools in the district; there are fewer minority, low-income and English Language Learning (ELL) students on their rosters. Even given this statistic, according to the PCCY report, 48% of applicants’ schools report that fewer than half of the students at the schools they currently operate are on grade level for reading and math. Further, a recent Stanford report found that in reading, as compared to their counterparts in traditional public schools (TPS), 56% of students in charter schools nationally showed no significant difference in academic growth between 2010 and 2011, and while 25% did significantly better, 19% did significantly worse. In math, 40% showed no difference as compared to their TPS counterparts in their scores, while 29% did significantly better and 31% did significantly worse. 

Philadelphia is our nation’s poorest big city; 84% of our students qualify as low-income. Because the data are so inconclusive, it seems that a problematic ideology of experimentation undergirds the district’s willingness to consider increasing the number of charter schools in our city. It is ethically unacceptable to experiment with the education or future of any child, especially those who may come from more challenging backgrounds or circumstances.

As people who teach and learn in Philadelphia’s schools, and as parents, we know that the problem of educational inequity and school failure is much bigger than teachers and schools: it has to do with people’s access to health care, healthy food, steady employment and a reliable income, early childhood education, and clean water and air, amongst other factors. While there seems to be no panacea for the amalgamation of social issues that affect children’s school experiences, increasing the number of charter schools, and thus, competition, in education does not help to solve any of our city’s problems. Former New York City Schools’ Chancellor Joel Klein advocates in the recent documentary The Lottery for parents to improve education in the city by “vot[ing] with their feet”, in other words, for refusing to send their children to neighborhood public schools that are purported to be low-quality. Yet, if a good public education were free and universal, why would parents have to vote or compete at all for their children’s welfare? Rather than increasing competition and exacerbating an already inequitable schooling environment, we advocate for working together to ensure that every child has, at the very least, access to a free and quality education, regardless of which school they attend or which neighborhood they live in. 

Indeed, charter schools in cities across the United States have become vehicles not only for experimentation, but for privatization and advancement of corporate interests. This is a sad distortion of Al Shanker’s original vision: he conceived of charters as independent, non-faith based public schools that could be started by special interest groups who worked alongside traditional public schools to best meet the needs of diverse populations of students, and to maximize the expertise of teachers and administrators.

Because we do not yet have enough data to say whether charter schools operate in the best interest of the youth on their rosters, at this point, Philadelphia doesn't need more charter schools, whatever their brands or track records might be.

What we need is a commitment to strengthen our existing schools. We need leaders to call upon our state to fund all schools fully and equitably. Finally, we need vision that will help us pull our city's schools from the wreckage brought by severe underfunding and into a new phase that will allow us to meet all students' needs and aspirations.

Education is a public good, not a business enterprise. It is time to fulfill the promise of public education, and provide quality schools to all of our city’s students.

Sincerely,

 

Amy Brown, MST, Ph.D.

Educational Anthropologist

Critical Writing Fellow, University of Pennsylvania

Supporting Member of the Caucus of Working Educators

 

Kristin R. Luebbert, M.Ed, MS.Ed

Reading Specialist

School District of Philadelphia

Caucus of Working Educators

 

Anissa Weinraub, M.Ed

English and Theater Arts Teacher

School District of Philadelphia

Caucus of Working Educators

 

Mark Stern, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor

Department of Educational Studies, Colgate University

Visiting Scholar, Education, Culture, and Society Program

Graduate School of Education, University of Pennsylvania

Supporting Member of the Caucus of Working Educators

 

Madeleine Nist, M.A.

Retired, School District of Philadelphia

Caucus of Working Educators

 

Tamara Anderson, M.Ed

Parent

Lead Faculty

University of Phoenix


Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools

Caucus of Working Educators (Supporting Member/Steering Committee)

 

Nick Palazzolo

Supporting Member of the Caucus of Working Educators

 

Alison McDowell

Parent

Supporting Member of the Caucus of Working Educators

Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools

 

Eileen Duffey Bernt, RN MS

Certified School Nurse

Caucus of Working Educators

Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools

 

Mariana Pardes, M.A.

Research Associate, Villanova University

Resident of Philadelphia

Supporting Member of the Caucus of Working Educators

 

Jody Cohen

Term Professor of Education

Bryn Mawr/Haverford Education Program

 

Susan Clampet-Lundquist, Ph.D.

Parent

Associate Professor

Department of Sociology, Saint Josephs University

 

Encarna Rodriguez

Associate Professor

Department of Educational Leadership

Saint Josephs University

 

Carolyn T. Adams, Ph.D.

Department of Geography and Urban Studies

Temple University

 

Magali Sarfatti-Larson, Ph.D.

Professor of Sociology (Emerita)

Temple University

 

Kelley Collings, M.Ed, MS.Ed

Math & Science Teacher

School District of Philadelphia

Caucus of Working Educators

Teacher Action Group

Teachers Lead Philly

 

Sonia M. Rosen, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor

School of Education

Arcadia University

 

Frank Bernt, Ph. D.

Professor

Department of Teacher Education

Saint Josephs University

 

Barbara Ferman, Ph.D

Professor

Department of Political Science

Temple University

 

Sukey Blanc, Ph.D.

Principal Researcher

Creative Research & Evaluation, LLC

 

Elaine Simon, Ph.D.

Co-Director, Urban Studies Program

University of Pennsylvania

 

Jerusha Conner, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Education

Villanova University

 


Rhiannon Maton, M.Ed

Ph.D Candidate, Graduate School of Education

University of Pennsylvania

 

Nina Johnson, PhD

Instructor, Graduate School of Education

University of Pennsylvania

 

Grace Player, M.A.

Ph.D. Candidate, Graduate School of Education

University of Pennsylvania

 

David Hensel

Teacher

School District of Philadelphia

Caucus of Working Educators, PFT

 

Shaw MacQueen

Teacher

School District of Philadelphia

Caucus of Working Educators

 

James Arrington, M.Ed

Ed.D Candidate, Graduate School of Education

University of Pennsylvania

 

Thomas Quinn

Teacher

School District of Philadelphia

Caucus of Working Educators, PFT

 

Jesse Gottschalk, M.S.Ed

Teacher

School District of Philadelphia

Caucus of Working Educators, PFT

 

Kaitlin McCann

Teacher

School District of Philadelphia

PFT

 

Peggy Marie Savage

N.A.A.C.P-A.C.T-S.O Planning Committee

Upward Bound Math & Science Symposium Judge

N.A.A.C.P-A.C.T-S.O Lead Science Judge

W.E. Working Caucus of the P.F.T

P.F.T. Liaison PLN 5/7

E.L.L. Content Friendly Teacher 5th Grade
Philadelphia Writing Project ( E.L.L)

Philadelphia Teachers Convening Executive Team

 

Lisa Hantman

Teacher

School District of Philadelphia

Citizen of Philadelphia

 

Monica Clark, M.S.

Doctoral Student

College of Education

Temple University

Citizen of Philadelphia

 

cc: Dr. William Hite, Superintendent

Paul Kihn, Deputy Superintendent

Matthew Stanski, CFP

Claire Landau, Assistant to the SRC

Sophie Bryan, Director, Strategy Delivery Unit

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"More Teaching, Less Testing!": Ways to Support Feltonville #OptOut Families and Teachers

Do you believe in limiting high-stakes testing's influence on our classrooms and communities? Even if you're not in the position to opt-out at your school, you can support the families and teachers at Feltonville- and help build a movement!

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1. This is a growing movement led by individual parents and teachers who are tired of how over-testing negatively effects students and keeps precious resources from going to schools that need them.

It all starts with simple, individual conversations with your colleagues and families about their experiences with testing, and their visions for more pedagogically and culturally-relevant assessments. Check out some of the many news articles on Feltonville and use one to start a conversation.

2. Sign and share the petition to support Philadlephia Parents' Right to Opt Out! As of this posting we're at almost 700 signatures; help us get to 1,000 this week!

3. Inform yourself! The Philadelphia Educator Law Center has created this fact-sheet on opting out in PA, and APPS Philly has this handy opt out form-letter and guide. Remember that in PA, we don't encourage students to opt out during years (3rd and 7th) that might affect middle- and high-school admissions.

3. Tweet and email your support of Philly's parents to Superintendent Hite and SRC Chairman Bill Green:

Sample Tweets: 

I am a #phled ____ [parent, teacher, student, supporter] and I stand with #optout students & parents at Feltonville! @Green4Philly @PhillyEducation @SDPHite #optoutPHL

I urge @Green4Philly @PhillyEducation @SDPHite to request testing waiver from state! Stop attack of #FeltonvilleStrong teachers #OptOut

Inform parents of #optout rights! @Green4Philly @PhillyEducation @SDPHite  Stop intimidation of #FeltonvilleStrong teachers!

4. Let the world know why you support assessments that help our students and children grow and learn! Post/tweet your own #WhyOptOut ideas.

5. Write a Support Statement, or take a "solidarity selfie" with your family, community, and colleagues! Post them widely, but please also email Feltonville Teacher kelleycollings@gmail.com so she can share your messages and photos with the school. Check out some of the many organizations and individual support letters here.

6. Are you in Philly? Join Feltonville Teachers and Families for an Opt Out Workshop on Thursday, February 5th on how you can build momentum to opt out at your school! 

7. What's your idea? Let us know! This movement will be built by the little actions of millions of families and educators!

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Feltonville Teachers Attacked by District

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PHILADELPHIA SCHOOL DISTRICT TAKES DISCIPLINARY ACTION AGAINST TEACHERS FOR INFORMING PARENTS OF THEIR OPT OUT RIGHTS AROUND HIGH STAKES TESTING

Parents at Feltonville and across the district stand in support of teachers

Dissatisfied with how standardized testing is eclipsing their children’s education, 20% of parents at  Feltonville School of Arts and Sciences -- with the support of teachers -- have opted their children out of standardized testing. And that number is growing despite disciplinary actions taken last week against teachers involved in informing parents of their rights.

Teachers were issued letters compelling them to attend investigatory conferences on Thursday of this week.  The district move follows this City Paper article announcing that 17% of students at Feltonville School of  Arts and Sciences refused to take the PSSAs and other assessments. News of the action prompted Council members María Quiñones-Sánchez, Mark Squilla and Jannie Blackwell to issue a public statement of support for Feltonville families on Thursday saying “Until we put some limits on this obsession with testing students, we will see protests like that at Feltonville. We stand with families who are making the choice they believe is best for their children.”

With the recent appointment of a new Pennsylvania Secretary of Education, Pedro Rivera, Council members Quinones-Sanchez, Squilla, and Blackwell called upon the School Reform Commission to formally request a waiver for this school year, and to begin a review of the long-term strategy to reform the use of standardized testing.

“We, as parents, have a right to say no to the test”, says Heidey Contrera, the mother of 8th grader Natalie Contrera, who, having moved to Philadelphia from the Dominican Republic in 2011, is designated an English Language Learner at Feltonville. “The test is not a good measure of my daughter’s ability. It is not a fair way to judge her. And we’re not taking it.”

“Parents have the right to opt out – that is an indisputable right,” said Helen Gym, co-founder of Parents United for Public Education, one of the groups to come out publicly in support of parents and teachers at Feltonville. “The District has an opportunity to work with parents and teachers on an issue of common gain rather than once again being on the wrong side of the table.”

 

 News and Support:

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City Council Supports Opting Out

City Council Members Express Support for Families ‘Opting Out’ of Standardized Testing in Feltonville

Councilwoman María Quiñones-Sánchez (7th District), Councilman Mark Squilla (1st District), and Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell (3rd District) expressed support today for families who have chosen to ‘opt out’ of standardized testing. “Until we put some limits on this obsession with testing students, we will see protests like that at Feltonville,” said Councilwoman Quiñones-Sánchez. “We stand with families who are making the choice they believe is best for their children,” said Councilman Squilla.

Parents of 17% of students enrolled in the Feltonville School of Arts and Sciences have decided their children will not participate in standardized testing this year, according to reporting today by Philadelphia City Paper’s Daniel Denvir.

Use of standardized testing has dramatically increased in recent years, taking up an increasing amount of school learning time, and interfering with educators’ efforts to focus on students’ development in areas of critical thinking and creative problem-solving. Tests such as the PSSA (Pennsylvania System of School Assesment) are now used for ‘high-stakes’ decisions about the future of individual students, their teachers, and their entire schools. Pennsylvania is planning to implement additional new Keystone Exams as a high school graduation requirement as of 2017.

Feltonville Arts and Sciences, a public middle school, has a significant rate of students who are “English Language Learners” (ELL), who have Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) due to disability or special needs, and who are impacted by trauma. Children report stress, anxiety, and even physical illness caused by this high-stakes testing. “Over-reliance on standardized testing disproportionately harms our most vulnerable students,” said Councilwoman Quiñones-Sánchez.

Philadelphia City Council adopted Resolution #140997 on December 11, 2014, calling on the School District of Philadelphia and the School Reform Commission to analyze the financial and human impact of standardized testing, to identify strategies to minimize its use, and to request a waiver of the Keystone Exams from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in order to adopt assessments that better serve local needs and priorities.

With the recent appointment of a new Pennsylvania Secretary of Education, Pedro Rivera, Council members Quiñones-Sánchez, Squilla, and Blackwell call upon the School Reform Comission to formally request a waiver for this school year, and to begin a review of the long-term strategy to reform our use of standardized testing.

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Where Do The Candidates Stand? A Political Platform for 2015

Elections are upcoming for mayor, city council, and city commissioner in Philadelphia. But where do the candidates stand on education issues?

See our platform items below to get an idea of where the candidates should be. If you are attending any meet and greets or public forums, use these items to get the opinions of those who are running!

 

The Caucus of Working Educators of the PFT believes that ALL Philadelphia school children have the right to a thorough and efficient education. To those ends, WE ask all candidates for public office in Philadelphia to adopt the following platform:

1. Adoption of a fair funding formula that creates equal funding for districts across Pennsylvania, as well as securing of additional revenue sources specifically for Philadelphia. This would include a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) program for institutions of higher education within the city limits, closing tax loopholes for corporations that do business in Philadelphia, as well as state-wide 5% tax on shale drilling, to be split equally between education and public employee pensions state-wide.

2. Restructuring of district debt. In 2015, debt servicing is projected to eat up 9% of the annual budget, or $280 million dollars (http://schoolbudget.phl.io/). Banks must be approached directly to forgive or at least restructure this debt.

3. Local control of our school district, specifically a school board elected by the citizens of Philadelphia.

4. A moratorium on the closing or transitioning of public schools until the district establishes complete financial transparency and oversight for all charter schools.

5. A reduction of the importance of standardized testing, including working to eliminate district-based exams, supporting families that refuse standardized testing for their children, and advocating for the use of multiple measures to evaluate student and school success.

6. Integration of wrap-around services into our schools, including social workers, medical professionals, and universal pre-kindergarten.

7. Equal rights to due process and collective bargaining for all teachers and school staff members across the state, even those in “cities of the first class.”

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Charter School Testimony: Alison McDowell

alison.jpgHere's my testimony from Thursday's charter hearing. It was so odd. There weren't any SRC or District officials, just a lady up front with a laptop. Strange. On the positive side, I was surprised given the crowd, that quite a few people clapped when I was done and someone I don't even know thanked me on Twitter. We are slowly making an impact. We just have to keep showing up.

It is not a choice when they close your neighborhood school.

It is not a choice when they starve your school of staff and resources with the goal of creating an unsafe environment.

It is not a choice when in exchange for much needed private funds, schools are compelled to fire over half their teachers.

It is not a choice when stranded costs from charter enrollment drain resources away from regular public schools.

What about those of us who choose and fight for non-charter schools?

We don’t have branded t-shirts and glossy posters, but we have a fierce devotion to the idea that schools are community anchors.

We believe that every neighborhood should have a school that accepts anyone who lives in that community-regardless of their home life or testing prowess or special needs.

We believe that public schools are the foundation of democracy, and that charter schools are chipping away at that foundation.

We believe that soon we will be in the same boat as New Orleans, Newark, and closer to home, York-very soon.

The choice will have been made. Not by parents, but by those who tug at the strings of a broken political system.

Charters are a false choice. They are the ones doing the choosing-gaming the system and counseling out the unworthy come January or February before testing season gets underway.

They quietly put out applications requesting illegal information that helps them screen out children who lack supports at home to burnish their reputations.

They expect a double standard when it comes to data-driven evaluations.

They expect us to look the other way at the fraud and ethics violations that have become a norm in this industry.

I am here today to say that I stand with neighborhood schools. I endorse the community school approach. And I request that you look at the barriers to access audit done by PCCY and PA Ed Law Center in April 2013. Any school on that list with identified barriers should absolutely not be given any more schools.

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An Inside Report from the Charter School Hearings

By Diane Payne

On Monday, I went to 440 N. Broad Street to testify regarding the 40 charter school applications being submitted this week.  I wasn’t able to be there all day for the presentations, so I didn’t hear the bells and whistles that Monday’s group of charter school applicants presented. I was speaker 29 and discovered that a fellow public school advocate was speaker 30. I left after the 30th speaker and want to note that only four people were there to speak against the expansion of charters. The 26 other speakers were students, parents, politicians, community leaders and charter school personnel that spoke in favor of their particular charter of choice.  This included the newly elected president of the NAACP. 

In addition to hearing the virtues of the “charter of choice”, it was very disheartening to often hear the disparaging remarks made about public schools.  I really, really urge any public school advocate to try to get down to 440 N. Broad Street, 2nd floor auditorium on Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday to offer your 3 minutes of public testimony to say “NO MORE CHARTERS” and to support our neighborhood public schools.  The total time from sign in to the end of speaker 30 was 1 1/2 hours.

Here is my testimony from Monday.

I am speaking today to request that the SRC suspend the consideration of any further charter school applications. The current rhetoric of our families needing “choice” is a false dialogue laced with false hope and false promises.  What you are deciding today isn’t about giving parents choice it is about taking away a basic, founding principle of our country…a free and quality public education for all. Not a mish-mash of unregulated “choices” which promotes itself as an easy answer to complex problems.  The complex problems of poverty, English as a second language, broken families, abuse, unequal job opportunity, lack of health care, crime to name a few, do not have easy answers and will not be fixed by Charter Schools. There is more and more hard evidence coming out on a daily basis that point to the problems inherent in charter school expansions. To name only some:

*Charter school expansion causes the further starving of public schools

*Fraud and financial mismanagement that enrich savvy members of the charter school network via real estate deals, management contracts, service contracts, equipment purchases, and pricey CEO salaries

*Lack of transparency in operation and finance

*Re-segregation of student populations

*Failure to mirror the neighborhood school’s demographics because of how students are admitted and then how students are retained if problems of any nature arise

*Here in Philadelphia, an absolute budget crisis that cannot sustain any further draining of resources

*And last but not least a total lack of available oversight again due to lack of resources

Although there are reputable and honorable charter schools functioning and helping children that do not mirror these problems, it is difficult if not impossible with the lack of fair regulation and oversight to manage the current number of schools, much less additional ones.

These problems relating to charter schools are not unique to Philadelphia. It is a nationwide issue that is harming our poor and urban areas. You will notice that you rarely find Charter Schools in wealthy suburban districts and that is only because you don’t find the complex problems I previously mentioned in those neighborhoods either.  Expansion of charter schools will not be the savior of education but they could be the demise of a cornerstone of our democracy, fair and equitable public school for all.

Please do not expand charter school options at this time.  Thank you.  

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