Should the rich rule the schools in Philadelphia and beyond?

rich high school

The following column appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer on April 20, 2018.

The story of how one wealthy man engaged in secret negotiations with officials to impose his will on one suburban high school became front-page news for days. Commentaries expressed outrage about the district’s rushed vote to rename Abington Senior High School in exchange for a $25 million gift from billionaire businessman Stephen Schwarzman, along with several other conditions,  including changes in curriculum and technology.  “Someone coming in with a lot of money can have a whole lot of influence over a public school,” warned one parent at a subsequent school board meeting. One Inquirer columnist expressed uneasiness  “that public schools could become beggars at the table of the uber-rich.”

To these suburban parents and pundits, we say: Welcome to our world.

In November 2011, the state-imposed School Reform Commission (SRC), absent any public deliberation, approved a multimillion-dollar grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In return, the SRC agreed to several conditions, including yearly charter expansion, implementation of Common Core standards, more school “choice” and testing, and permanent school closures. No one elected Bill Gates, typically portrayed in the media as just a very generous rich guy, to make decisions about Philadelphia’s public schools. But his mandates have had devastating and lasting effects on the district, much more than renaming one school.

Abington residents were shocked to learn of the district’s covert establishment of a foundation that would make decisions, rather than the elected school board, about how to spend money from donors. Here in Philadelphia, the Gates Compact conferred authority upon the Philadelphia School Partnership (PSP) “to provide funding …to low-performing or developing schools.” PSP has since raised tens of millions from a stable of wealthy donors; most has gone to charter schools, in keeping with Gates’ pro-privatization ideology.

Read more: Public Eduction shouldn’t have to rely on private money

PSP’s influence has grown in the last seven years: the group now funds and operates teacher and principal training programs, oversees a website rating all Philadelphia schools, and holds the district’s yearly high school fair. PSP’s money, like Schwarzman’s, always comes with strings attached, whether that means changing a school’s curriculum or a complete overhaul of faculty and staff, as its 2014 grant to two North Philadelphia schools mandated.

Meetings of the PSP board, where decisions about funding, curriculum, and staff training of public schools are made, are closed to the public.   This board, composed mostly of wealthy suburban businesspeople, often has more influence over city public schools than the residents do.

This practice of ceding public decisions to private investors on a large scale first reared its head in 2001, when Philadelphia came dangerously close to privatizing the entire district and handing over the reins to the for-profit Edison Schools founded by media mogul Chris Whittle.

>> Read more: Many public institutions, like libraries, are funded by private money, but caution is key 

Gates, whose Compact has been adopted in several other cities, including Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Nashville, and New Orleans, is just one member of what education writer Diane Ravitch calls the “Billionaires Boys Club” of corporate education reformers. Real estate developer Eli Broad is using his wealth and political power to stave off community opposition to his push to charter-ize half of Los Angeles’ public schools. The family of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, heirs to the Amway fortune, have used their billions to privatize public education through the unregulated proliferation of for-profit charters in Detroit and other cities throughout Michigan. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg gave $100 million toward then-Gov. Chris Christie’s 2010 plan to transfer Newark students from neighborhood schools to charters. Newark residents, who learned about this massive cash infusion when it was announced on Oprah, had never been consulted about what they wanted in the “One Newark” plan.

Abington residents were justifiably angry about the board’s intention to rush through a vote without full public disclosure.

Like the opioid crisis, it seems to have taken a less urban and more middle-class population to alter the media’s perspective on the damage inflicted. This appears to be a brushfire in Abington, while rule by the rich has been a fact of life for almost two decades in Philadelphia, where the less affluent, mostly minority community continues to be disenfranchised in matters of school governance.

Lisa Haver is a retired Philadelphia teacher and cofounder of the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools. Deborah Grill is a retired teacher and school librarian and a research coordinator for the alliance. appsphilly.net.

 

 

APPS sends a letter to Governor Wolf asking for the removal of Commissioner Green from the SRC for violation of the School Code

Wolf : Green

Last week, APPS co-founders Lisa Haver and Karel Kilimnik sent this letter to Governor Wolf. APPS asked the Governor to enforce the official school code, which clearly states that no sitting SRC commissioner may “seek or hold a position as any other public official”.  The Governor should enforce that law. He should ask Green to step down.  If Green does not, he should take steps to remove him.

All For Phila Public Schools
apps.phila@aol.com


Governor Tom Wolf
225 Main Capitol Building
Harrisburg, PA  17120

governor@state.pa.us

 Dear Governor Wolf:

 On March 3, 2018 SRC Commissioner Bill Green filed federal paperwork to challenge U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle in the 2018 Democratic primary, and he is currently circulating nominating petitions.

 Section(6) Section 696 (b)(6) of the Public School Code of 1949, as amended, states:

No commission member may, while in the service of the School Reform Commission, seek or hold a position as any other public official within this Commonwealth or as an officer of a political party.

 The law is clear: no one, including Mr. Green, can serve on the SRC while seeking public office. There is no question that a person serving in the US Congress is a public official.

 On behalf of the members of the Alliance for Philadelphia Schools, we ask that you immediately remove Commissioner Green from the SRC.

 Sincerely,
Lisa Haver
Karel Kilimnik
Co-founders, Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools


For Governor Wolf’s response to the APPS letter see

Gov. Wolf: Bill Green can’t run for Congress | Clout – The Philadelphia Inquirer

APPS members have an Op Ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer protesting lack of transparency in Mayoral selection of a new school board

clark and kenney 2

Integrity of Philly’s new school board needs protection | Philadelphia Inquirer – February 22, 2018

by Rich Migilore and Karel Kilimnik

Unlike those in every other school district in the state, and in almost every district in the nation, we the people of Philadelphia continue to be disenfranchised in the governance of our public schools. To make matters worse, the return to local control, after the 17-year reign of the state-imposed School Reform Commission, will devolve into one-person control unless our elected officials take steps to guarantee the independence of the new school board.

 Following the mandates of the current City Charter, Mayor Kenney appointed a 13-member nominating panel, which is scheduled to hold a public meeting Monday and vote on a list of names that Kenney will draw from to select a nine-person school board. The mayor had directed the panel to hold previous meetings in executive session, effectively barring members of the public from witnessing or taking part in the process in any way.

This absolute control by the mayor can be mitigated in several ways. First, the nominating panel, under the leadership of Chair Wendell Pritchett, should have opened all of its meetings to the public. As city officials, members of the panel are obligated to obey all laws, including the Pennsylvania Sunshine Act, which codifies the right of the people to witness the actions of all government officials, whether elected or appointed.

 Checks and balances must be instituted. City Council has proposed an amendment to the charter which, if approved by the voters in a referendum on the May ballot, will provide for Council confirmation of all future nominees. In addition, Council President Darrell Clarke has proposed language in the referendum to stipulate that members of the board of education can only be removed “for cause.” That is an essential provision to protect the independence and integrity of the board and should be adopted.

Kenney has voiced his opposition to the for-cause provision and wants board members to serve at the pleasure of the mayor. That is inconsistent with the principles of democracy that underpin the governance of our public school system.

Clarke explained in a response letter to Kenney that the board of education, under the Educational Home Rule Supplement to the City Charter, is a “separate and independent body” from the office of the mayor. State law makes school districts separate and distinct local educational agencies.

 Clarke is correct when he says, “The key idea here is independence: the for-cause requirement will provide some assurance that the members of the Board of Education can make independent decisions that they believe are in the best interests of our City’s children – even if the Mayor or Council disagree.” The for-cause provision protects school board members from being removed for political reasons or for speaking out in opposition to the Mayor or City Council.

Council should scrutinize every aspect of the appointment process and make every amendment necessary to protect the integrity of the democratic process. That includes the present lack of transparency and secrecy of the mayor’s nominating panel and its violations of the Pennsylvania Sunshine Act.

 These are all constitutional issues as well as legislative issues.  The right to procedural due process is guaranteed by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Democracy matters and our state and federal constitutions cannot be nullified at the schoolhouse door.

Rich Migliore, Esq. is a former Philadelphia teacher and administrator and the author of “Whose School Is It: the Democratic Imperative for Our Schools.”

Karel Kilimnik is a retired Philadelphia early childhood educator and co-founder of the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools. Email:  philaapps@gmail.com

Are Charters Under Attack? Facts Show Otherwise

Philadelphia charters

by Lisa Haver
January 30, 2018

Charter CEOs and supporters held a rally at City Hall on Tuesday January 30 to ask for a “seat at the table” when the new school board replaces the School Reform Commission. Several City Councilpersons attended the event, held in the Mayor’s Reception Room.

APPS members have said consistently that district budget problems stem not just from a lack of funding, but from the spending priorities of the SRC which keeps resources out of classrooms. Consulting fees, faux graduate school, training by outsourcing by unqualified and inexperienced people: Teach For America, The New Teacher Project, Relay Graduate School of Education, Cambridge, Boston Consulting, Jounce, Institute for Student Achievement, etc.

But the biggest waste of money in the SD budget is the funding of malfunctioning charters. Report after report, including the latest from Philadelphia Citizens for Children and Youth (PCCY), shows that district schools outperform charters. Charter supporters say that they only support “high-quality” charters, that they want the failing charters closed. But when they have the opportunity to prove that, they are nowhere to be found. Some examples:

Click here to read the rest of the article.