A Fox in the Hen House – Sept 1, 2023



Most Pennsylvanians have never heard of the Pennsylvania Charter Appeal Board where six public appointees and the Secretary of Education wield extraordinary powers not granted to any other board or commission in the Commonwealth. It can overrule the decisions of locally elected officials and, in doing so, direct the expenditure of local taxes.

The illegal efforts to thwart the 2020 elections taught us that those holding power must guarantee public appointees have an unwavering allegiance to the law, share an abiding commitment to the purpose of their service, and have the fortitude to reject nefarious schemes that seek to subjugate them for personal or ideological gains. Thankfully our democracy is still in tact because so many state and local election officials had all three of those characteristics.

This week Senate President Pro Tempore Kim Ward said that Republicans want to get “more charter schools open. So we talked to the governor about that and he agreed that we would be fixing that.” PA Senate Republicans, angry over Shapiro’s veto of private school vouchers, are turning their sights to the Charter Appeal Board with hopes of stacking it to fulfill the Senate leadership goals of unfettered charter expansion. These same leaders are the first to criticize traditional public schools but turn a blind eye to the charter sector’s abysmal academic record and its wasteful spending of BILLIONS of taxpayer dollars.

Over the last 25 years, the Charter Appeal Board has shuttered charter schools for fraud, illegal use of funds, violation of students’ civil rights, and gross financial mismanagement. It has also overturned school board decisions that illegally blocked charter schools from operating. The Board’s credibility as a neutral venue to decide if the education laws of the state are being properly executed has seldom been called into question since the Board’s decisions have been transparent and legally sound, with their rulings pretty evenly split between the two camps.

With five of the six appointed seats open, the Governor can either push the Senate Republicans to maintain the Charter Appeal Board’s integrity and functionality by appointing solid, non-ideological members, or he can concede to their plan to put the proverbial fox in charge of the hen house.

Senate leaders and the Governor would be wise to recognize that being neutral doesn’t mean every appointee must be free of any charter affiliation. For example, current board member Jennifer Faustman, a CEO of a charter school in Philadelphia, doesn’t automatically side with charters. She holds them to a high standard and sides with school districts when the facts and the law call for it.

Our last four governors, two Democrats and two Republicans, nominated board members who maintained the public trust. The last thing Pennsylvania needs right now – after the Commonwealth Court ruled the state is failing in its responsibility to fund education – is a Charter Appeal Board that also ignores its obligation to students. Biased, unprepared members of the Board would erode public trust and put student success at risk. If that happens, shame on those making the appointments for not learning the lessons of the past.

Fringe conservative groups are pushing to repeal state guidelines for teacher training programs that equip new teachers with skills and knowledge to make every student – regardless of race or heritage – feel welcome and respected at school. Email your legislator, tell them to keep the guidelines in place.

Don’t believe the hype that Philly students are clamoring to get into charter schools. Six out of ten of the 83 charter schools in the district are under their authorized enrollment, with fifteen of them between 20% and 40% under-enrolled.

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When multi-millionaire Kevin O’Leary
suggested that the richest 1% “motivate”
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their lives in extreme poverty, the
interviewer balked.
“So, you’re saying the only thing standing
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just need to pull up my socks. Oh wait, I
don’t even have socks…