PA activists rally against the corporate takeover of public schools in York

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by Brian Washington

York, Pennsylvania, is known as the White Rose City—a name that stems from the White Rose of York, the symbol of England’s House of York.

Now, a group of parents, educators, and students has banded together to keep York from becoming known for something else—the first city in Pennsylvania where all of its public schools are run by corporate profiteers looking to make a dollar on the backs of children.

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York, still reeling from the economic crisis created by Governor Tom Corbett when he cut millions from local city schools and a billion dollars statewide from public education, is currently run by a state-appointed chief recovery officer.

David Meckley was given the job by Corbett and is now pressuring the school board to turn over all of the city’s public schools to one of two out-of-state, private management companies. Each school would then be converted to a for-profit charter school.

Meckley is racing against the clock to get the deal done before November’s gubernatorial election. That’s because Corbett, who supports corporate takeover of public schools, is lagging in the polls and not likely to win a second term. Corbett’s Democratic opponent, Tom Wolf, has come out against Meckley’s plan.

However, a growing chorus of pro-public education advocates—including students, parents, and community leaders—are joining with teachers and education support professionals to say “no” to a corporate takeover of York public schools.

The group has collected close to 4,000 signatures from city residents opposed to Meckley’s plan and has held several rallies, including one that took place before the city school board’s latest meeting. NEA Vice President Becky Pringle, herself a Pennsylvania educator, attended Wednesday’s rally.

The York City privatization plan won’t save taxpayers one dime, said Pringle in a recent blog post. But it will cost them a voice in how their schools are run. Converting their schools to corporate charters will do nothing but line the pockets of private companies and their CEOs.

Charter schools were originally intended to serve as centers of innovation that spawn new and improved approaches to teaching and learning that could later be shared with traditional public schools. However, rapid expansion of charter schools nationwide has led to problems concerning oversight, accountability, wasteful spending, and fraud.

In Pennsylvania, several charter operators in Philadelphia have plead guilty to fraud charges, and the operator of an online charter in Beaver County is charged with trying to steal $1 million of the public’s money.

Meanwhile, the Annenberg Institute at Brown University has just released a report calling for high standards regarding charters in terms of accountability, transparency, and equity.

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The two corporate-chain charter companies seeking a contract with York are Mosaica Education Inc. and Charter Schools USA. In 2012, Mosaica had a five year contract to run the Muskegon Heights Public School Academy in Muskegon Heights, Michigan ,but quit after two years because it couldn’t turn a profit.

Charter Schools USA began operating three schools in Indianapolis during the 2012-13 school year. So far, all three schools have earned an “F” from Indiana education officials.

According to Pringle, York parents are looking for real solutions to help all public school students succeed, and it starts with restoring the critical dollars Corbett cut from public education. She says taxpayer dollars must be used for students’ classroom needs and not to line the pockets of private corporations and their CEOs.

“We cannot let corporations destroy public education and slam the door in the faces of so many students,” said Pringle. “We must take back our schools for our students who deserve the access and opportunity our public education system can provide.”

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