York, Penn., desperate to turn around major holes in its budget and major shortfalls in academic achievement, is considering the drastic step of turning every school in the city into a charter school run by one of two for-profit companies.
To do so, however, it will have to overcome major resistance from both parents and organized labor.
York, which already has several small charters in operation, is considering hiring one of two charter school companies, Mosaica Education or Charter Schools USA, to take over all of the city’s remaining schools starting next year.
The measure is primarily driven by York’s failing finances and subsequent efforts to negotiate with the town’s teachers’ union. David Meckley, the state-appointed chief recovery officer for the school district, says without a new collective bargaining agreement with local teachers, the city simply won’t have the money to run the schools in a suitable way.
Despite the prospective takeover potentially costing dozens of teachers their jobs, so far the union has held firm, resisting possible changes that were initially agreed upon in a school district recovery plan. Instead, teachers are hitting back hard by trying to harness public sentiment against the “charterization” of the city.
Several hundred people rallied Wednesday night to oppose the plan. Protesters said that an all-charter system would make York’s children “guinea pigs” in a radical experiment and argued that such a system would make a mockery of the “school choice” typically advocated by charter proponents.
Clovis Gallon, one of York’s teachers, told a local Fox News broadcast that he couldn’t trust anybody “in it to make money” to run the city’s education system.
The battle has drawn in some major players in organized labor, with National Education Association vice president Becky Pringle participating in Wednesday’s rally.
Charter school advocates, such as the Center for Education Reform, argue that for-profit firms can do little worse than the current regime has already done running York’s schools. Besides its recurring budget troubles, the city’s schools have persistently failed to achieve yearly progress mandated by No Child Left Behind, and a ranking of Pennyslvania’s approximately 500 school districts conducted by a state business journal placed York almost dead last.
Defenders counter that York has suffered worse than most from draconian spending cuts at the state level, as well as from wider societal issues of poverty and inequality.
An all-charter system is not without precedent in the United States. Last spring, Louisiana’s Recovery School District, which operates most public schools in the city of New Orleans, closed its last conventional public schools and shifted to an all-charter model.
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