Sunday, January 12, 2014

All One Big Happy(?) Family

For the past year, behind locked doors, some of the players in school reform have been gathering information to make a decision on whether there should be a single application form for Philadelphia public, charter and parochial schools. Bill Hangley wrote an interesting article in the Philadelphia Public School Notebook about it.

He reports, ”As proposed by the increasingly influential Philadelphia School Partnership (PSP) in a briefing at City Council last fall, a universal enrollment system would provide a single application process for all District schools, some (or possibly all) charter schools, and, potentially, tuition-based Catholic schools run by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.”
My first reaction was apprehension that it was being recommended by the Philadelphia School Partnership (PSP). The PSP has been instrumental in backing plans for increasing funding for charter schools and parochial schools to the detriment of the public school system. The "partnership" in their title is solely a pairing of schools versus the public school system.
Something needs to be done about the charter school applications, but I don’t know if the universal application form is the way to go. First, unless you can insist on the true universality of the application, it won’t work. From what they are proposing,  ALL of the charters don’t have to use it, but all of the public schools do, What’s the point there? That already makes it NOT universal. Second, you are including Catholic schools on the same footing as public. There still is something in the constitution about separation of Church and State. Thirdly, it’s likely to cost time and money to get the universal application to fruition and at this time, the School District cannot afford any additional expenses. They are already hundreds of millions of dollars short for next year’s budget.  And lastly, rather than looking to make schools better, it will give the students a free ride out of the neighborhood schools and into charters and parochial schools.

It is true that some of the more successful charters make it very easy to attract the kind of student they want and exclude those that may bring down their scores. Some have been accused of stacking the deck against low-income or ESL students. For example, one charter which just moved into a brand new state-of-the-art building, posted their application process online for a limited period and the parents had to come on only one night to hand in the applications. In order to see the application, you’d have to have a computer, printer, and internet access. In my inner city school, only 40% of the kids had internet access. This particular charter has no public transportation running anywhere near it, so you’d have to have a car to get there. Being as the neighborhood was white, middle-class, is there any wonder why the large majority of the student were white? Another charter asked students to write an essay before they’d accept them. Still another had an 18-page application. And there was the one that scheduled interviews for the application process only during the day when many people work. Not many of the charters had applications in languages other than English. So, is it any wonder, that these selective charters had few ESL student, special ed students or poverty-level students? There needs to be a common application for the charters only so the process of selection would be fair.

I do not understand the inclusion of Catholic Schools in the process, other than it being a drive to get students to attend the Catholic Schools. Here in PA, there is a voucher program of sorts for those who want to go to private and parochial schools. Even though the State Supreme Court doesn’t seem to have a problem with it, I do. It’s bad enough that the charters siphon off our smarter students, but I can’t see how spending taxpayer’s money on religious schools works. The money doesn’t come from the taxes directly, but rich benefactors donate tens of thousands of dollars for “scholarship” money and get tax write-offs for it.  Thus, money that could have been used for public school students, finds its way into the pockets of the church. I, myself, attended parochial schools for 12 years but I still believe we are better off separating church and state. But since the Philadelphia School Partnership is pushing for it, I can reasonably predict that it will only benefit charters and parochial schools, which are the PSP's main beneficiaries.

The School District’s bare-bones budget this year will affect the charters next year, as they will get a reduced amount of money for each pupil. I don’t know the figure that the district will put out for each student this year but, with reduced nurses, assistant principals, and counselors, reduced supportive services assistants, no classroom assistants, no paper or supplies, it can’t be much! The SRC is looking at a $400 million deficit in the 2014-15 school year, with little hope of any meaningful assistance from the state or city.  They are asking for a 25% decrease in salary/benefits from the union members to help make up $130 million dollars THIS year. So they will waste money appointing a committee to study the feasibility of this universal application, with no money to spend for it anyway? And they want the union to give up hundreds of millions? I don’t think so.

To read more about the controversy, click on the link below.

 Jerry Jordan, head of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, responds to the Universal Application issue -


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