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Education Cuts Are About Making Charter Schools Profitable

Patch reader and T.E.A.C.H. co-founder Steven Singer says, 'There's money to be made shortchanging kids' educations,' and lays out a case against Gov. Tom Corbett's budget cuts in education.

Dear Editor: 

For the second consecutive year, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett has proposed massive education budget cuts.

For the second year in a row, Corbett has proposed massive cuts to colleges, universities and K-12 public schools.

For the second consecutive year, Corbett has proposed the state do less for its citizens and more for big business.

Why? 

It’s all about profits. There’s money to be made shortchanging kids’ educations. 

States throughout the country spend the majority of their budgets on schools. On average, states spend about 40 percent of their tax revenues on K-12 and colleges, according to The National Association of State Budget Officers. That’s some $400 billion every year.

Pennsylvania comes in somewhat below the national average with only 33 percent of its budget (approximately $9 billion) going to education in 2011-12.

Still, that’s a lot of money. If only there was a way for lawmakers and corporations to skim a bit off the top. If only there were a way to spend less on the students, pocket the extra and yet appear to be offering bold new initiatives that only hold the students' best interest at heart.

Enter charter schools. 

Charter schools are alternative education systems that, while paid for by taxes, are independent of the public-school system and relatively free from state and local regulations. A charter school has a greater degree of freedom and autonomy than the traditional public school, and students attend it by choice.

Not all charter schools are created equal, though. Some charter schools truly are driving real reform with student-centered policies. However, these are not the norm. Most charters are big business-run factories with a driving purpose to lower costs and increase profits no matter what that does to the widgets ... I mean students, they produce.

For instance, a 2004 study done by the Department of Education found that charter schools "are less likely than traditional public schools to employ teachers meeting state certification standards.” A national evaluation by Stanford University found that 83 percent of charter schools perform worse than public schools.

And it only gets worse for cyber charter schools. Fewer than 20 percent of Pennsylvania’s cyber charters meet national standards for reading and math known as AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress). 

But the cost is so low, the profits so high! Provide a kid with a computer and software, and you’re done. Maybe you have a handful of actual living, breathing teachers on staff to provide instruction via a chat room. Compare those costs with that of public schools. Just the cost of running an actual brick-and-mortar building is more. 

Do these schools get less in tax revenue to support them since their costs are that much less? No. Everything left over is profit. That’s money the cyber charters can use to advertise and get more students (something public schools can’t do), money they can line the pockets of like-minded legislators with or funds that management can give to itself in the form of huge bonuses. 

This is why Corbett and his supporters proposed cutting K-12 education by $900 million last year. This is why the governor suggests cutting K-12 education by an additional $94 million this year. That is why he’ll suggest cuts again next year and every year as long as he remains in office.

He knows public schools, like any other organization, can’t run effectively if they aren’t funded efficiently. And if they fail, it just proves how much we need to transform our public schools into charter schools. 

You can already see the massive damage he’s done with the 2011-12 budget cuts. A September study by the Pennsylvania School Administrators Association and the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials indicated that this year 70 percent of school districts increased class sizes, 44 percent of school districts reduced course offerings, 35 percent of school districts reduced or eliminated tutoring programs and 14,159 school district positions were eliminated or left vacant.

Pennsylvania’s students are struggling to get an education just as Pennsylvania’s remaining employed teachers are struggling to provide them with one. Further cuts would make this much worse. Without an increase in funds, not keeping funding the same or a continual decrease, Pennsylvania’s public schools are bound to fail—by design. 

However, if you watched the governor’s budget address, you heard a completely different story. This year, Corbett says he’s not cutting K-12 public schools—he says he’s increasing funding slightly. 

But ...

He proposes revamping basic education funding to get rid of all those pesky management costs. To do so, he’ll change how he funds public schools. 

Instead of separate funding streams each dedicated to specific aspects of the school, Corbett will have all the funds lumped together in one big block grant. 

That sounds good, right? All the money’s in one pot, spend it however you need, no strings attached.

However, when you actually do the math, you get a different picture entirely. All funding streams for K-12 in the 2011-12 budget equaled $6,610,486,000. This year his proposed block grant equals $6,516,087,000. That’s a cut of $94,399,000!

I know my critics will say all of this is just inevitable. We can’t afford education spending. Pennsylvania has a $719 million budget deficit projected by June. True. But who makes these projections? The Corbett administration, of course.  Yes, you, too, can create your own budgetary crisis at home in three easy steps:

1. make your projected revenue really high

2. Fall short of that number

3. Repeat every budget season.

Voila! A budgetary crisis.

It’s the same thing the administration did last year. Republicans projected a budget shortfall thereby justifying budget cuts of almost $900 million to K-12 education. All the while, the state raked in a budget surplus of $188 million. This year, in terms of raw dollars revenues are running 1.5 percent ahead of last year! 

There is no budget crisis. It’s all smoke and mirrors! However, if we continue down this path of slashing aide to public schools and forcing them to fail, we truly will have a budget crisis. How many more of the state’s 129,708 teachers will be unemployed, thus unable to pay taxes? How many of the state’s 1,775,029 public school students will actually get a quality education, thus enabling them to pay taxes once they enter the workforce? 

Or does any of that really matter to Corbett? Perhaps short-term profits are the only bottom line for this governor and his Republican-controlled Legislature. 

Come on, Pennsylvania! We deserve better than this. Our kids deserve better than this.  

Shame on you if you let Corbett and his backers get away with it. We know better. If we let Corbett get away with it, the next generation won’t be so lucky.

Steven Singer
T.E.A.C.H. co-founder
Steel Valley School District teacher

 

Have something to say? How about a letter to the editor? North Hills Patch will post these letters, up to 500 words, on the topics that stir you and your neighbors in the North Hills.

Send your letters to amyjo.brown@patch.com. Please include your home address and a number where you can be reached. Neither will be published and are for verification purposes only. 

Max Weber January 07, 2013 at 09:22 PM
Yep. That's generally right. I've been researching NC and SC charters. NC pays the charter school significantly less than the county schools... county schools get building and other funds. So, its profitable for the counties and states to move to charter. But, on the other hand, we see the grants for charters mostly follow a "we failed you try" model where the charters are for the lowest income, poorest performing areas. In this light, the charter schools are accepting an epic task. They will be rated lower and have a much, much harder challenge.

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