SB904, the educational voucher bill winding its way through the Pennsylvania state legislature, does a number of things. You may like them you may not. But one aspect of it that really bothers me is that it would allow a local school board to convert a public school into a charter school. At least that is how I understand it and how an Inquirer article ("Proposed Pennsylvania law would give local school boards more freedom to award charters," by Dan Hardy 3/29/2011) interpreted it.
This is the wording in SB904 (p. 85 of the bill):
(2) The local board of school directors, the special board of control established under section 692 or the School Reform Commission established under section 696 which desires to convert an existing public school or a portion of an existing public school to a charter school may designate and approve the existing public school or portion of an existing public school that it seeks to convert to a charter school.
The local board of school directors, the special board of control established under section 692 or the School Reform Commission established under section 696 may accept applications by any individual or entity authorized to establish a charter school under subsection (a) to operate the converted charter school. There shall be no limit on the number of public schools in a school district that can be converted to a charter school.
The legislation was referred to the Education Committee on March 25, 2011. It was introduced by Senators PICCOLA, DINNIMAN, WILLIAMS, SCARNATI, PILEGGI, FOLMER, ALLOWAY, ERICKSON, CORMAN, D. WHITE, ROBBINS, EICHELBERGER, STACK, WAUGH, GREENLEAF AND RAFFERTY.
Even though the legislation is sitting in committee, charter school proponents and commercially owned charter schools are already approaching public schools about converting some of their schools into charter. In response to an open records request the Pottstown School Board has released a series of emails and letters regarding, among other things, the correspondence between the school board chair and Vahan Gureghian, who operates charter schools. Gureghian proposes that the school district convert all kindergarten through 5th grade schools into charter schools that his company, Charter School Management, would run, for less than it would cost the school district to run them. Budgetary concerns are the only reasons listed for the conversion. (The emails and letters are available online at the Pottstown Mercury, see p. 37 of 44.
Do you want to find out one day that your local school board has decided to outsource all of the public elementary schools in your district to a private firm? With no input from parents or teachers? I wonder how these savings would be made? Pay teachers less? Do away with libraries, librarians, school nurses, special education, art, music? What? Personally, I don't want my children taught by people who are willing to work for the lowest possible wage. The average Pennsylvania teacher with over a decade of experience earns $56K (see previous blog post for source data). The easiest way to cut educational costs is to cut wages or increase class size. To really cut costs you could offer prospective teachers $35K a year with kindergarten classes of 35, and larger classes in the higher grades. You would save a lot of money doing that. But I wouldn't want my children in that room.
And I am very opposed to the idea that a school board can convert a public school into a charter school without input from parents or teachers.
I hope this bill stays in committee and doesn't see light of day. People who are represented by the senators who sponsored the bill might want to talk with them about it.