Sunday, October 30, 2016
PA: State Rep Compares School Boards to Hitler
Hitler blamed the Jews for everything that was wrong with the world and school boards blame charter schools.
This was on Facebook, in response to a question about the currently-off-the-table HB 530, a bill that was supposed to provide big fat early Christmas presents to the charter school industry in PA.
Roae’s district is just up the road from me and just down the road from Erie, where the schools have made some headlines with their economic issues, to the point that their board was seriously considering closing all of its high schools. Erie is one of several school districts that highlight the economic troubles of school districts in Pennsylvania. It’s a complex mess, but the basic problems boil down to this.
First, Pennsylvania ranks 45th in the country for level of state support for local districts. That means the bulk of school district funding comes from local taxpayers, and that means that as cities like Erie with a previously-industrial tax base have lost those big employers, local revenue has gone into freefall, opening up some of the largest gaps between rich and poor districts in the country.
Second, Pennsylvania’s legislature (the largest full-time legislature in the country, one of the most highly paid, and one of the most impressively gerrymandered) decided in the early 2000s that they would let local districts skimp on payments to the pension fund because, hey, those investments will grow the fund like wildfire anyway. Then Wall Street tanked the economy, and now local districts are looking at spectacularly ballooning pension payments on the order of payments equal to as much as one third of their total budget.
Oh, and a side note– the legislature also periodically goes into spectacular failure mode about the budget. Back in 2015 districts across the state had to borrow huge chunks of money just to function, because Harrisburg couldn’t get their job done.
Third, Pennsylvania is home to what our own Auditor General calls the worst charter laws in the country. There are many reasons for that judgment, but for local districts the most difficult part is that charter school students take 100% of their per-capita cost with them.
So Erie City Schools, despite some emergency funding from the state, will run up as much as a $10 million deficit this year, with a full quarter of their spending going to charter and pension costs. Meanwhile, the legislature is trying to phase in a new funding formula (or, one might say, its first actual funding formula). This is going to be a painful process because, to even things out, it will have to involve giving some cities a far bigger injection of state tax dollars than richer communities will get. Politicians face the choice of either explaining this process and making a case for fairness and justice, or they can just play to the crowd and decry Harrisburg “stealing our tax dollars to send to Those People.” Place your bets now on which way that wind will blow.
Oh, and that formula is supposed to get straightened out over the next twenty years!!
Meanwhile, guys like Roae want to blame teachers and school districts. You can’t give teachers raises and benefits. If Erie (and school districts like it) want state aid, then they should cut costs and stop blaming charter schools. Meanwhile, Roae has been lauded by the PA cyber industry as a “champion of school choice.”
Roae, who graduated from Gannon in 1990 with a business degree and worked in the insurance biz until starting his legislative career, ought to know better.
When hospitals throughout Northwest PA wanted to cut costs, they didn’t open more hospitals. If you are having trouble meeting your household budget, you do not open a second home and move part of your family into it.
Education seems to be the only field in which people suggest that when you don’t have enough money to fund one facility, you should open more facilities. Charters are in fact a huge drain on public schools in the state. If my district serves 1,000 students and 100 leave for a charter school, my operating costs do not decrease by 10% even if my student population does. In fact, depending on which 100 students leave, my costs may not decrease at all. On top of that, I have to maintain capacity to handle those students because if some or all come back (and many of them do) I have to be able to accommodate them.
And while you can argue that losing students to charters may allow me to reduce the number of teachers in my school, in effect “moving” those jobs to the charter, the charter will still have to duplicate administrative costs.
Roae need only look at the schools all around his district to see schools that are cutting programs, closing buildings, jamming more students into classrooms, and offering the taxpayers of the district less in their public school system. Charter school costs aren’t responsible for all of that, but they are certainly responsible for a lot of it, and that is doubly frustrating for school boards who, unlike Hitler, feel some responsibility for watching over the tax dollars that they were elected to spend wisely. And yet, unlike Hitler, they have no say at all over how those dollars are spent by the charters and, under Pennsylvania’s lousy charter laws, nobody really has oversight once those public tax dollars go into private charter operator hands.
It’s like board members get ten dollars from a taxpayer for lunch
Taxpayer: Couldn’t you get us a better lunch with the money we gave you?
Board member: Well, the state said I had to give three dollars to that guy.
Taxpayer: Well, did he at least buy lunch with it.
Board member: I have no idea.
We could discuss the widespread fraud and scandal of Pennsylvania charter schools (if you hate the idea of your NWPA tax dollars going to Philly, you’ll really hate what happens when they go to Philly charters), but that’s really beside the point. If PA legislators think charters are such a good idea, they could come up with a funding system that didn’t bleed the public system dry in order to get charters running.
Meanwhile, voters in District 6 might try voting against someone who thinks that after you rob Peter to pay Paul, you yell at Peter for not being thrifty enough to withstand the theft, and then compare him to Hitler.