Charter Schools Education Industry For-Profit Pennsylvania

Follow the Money: How Charter Schools in Pennsylvania Succeed

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This is an excellent series of articles on the rise of the privatization movement in Pennsylvania. The bottom line, as usual: Follow the money.


If you want to understand the growth of charter schools in Pennsylvania, you must read this bombshell article by Daniel Simmons-Ritchie.


The charter lobby has spent millions to influence legislators. It also has the ability to mobilize hundreds of children to pack legislators’ offices, a tactic unavailable to public schools.


Pennsylvania does not allow for-profit charter schools, yet there are many for-profit charter schools in the state.


Do you want to know who is making money by sponsoring charters? The article has the names and details.


It’s no secret that Harrisburg is a hive of lobbyists, each representing industries and interests that spend millions to persuade state lawmakers to bend laws in their favor.


But perhaps what makes the charter-school lobby unique among the pack, says State Rep. Bernie O’Neill, a Republican from Bucks County, is its ability to deploy children to its cause.


In 2014, O’Neill experienced that first hand after proposing changes to a funding formula that would affect charter schools. Parents and children stormed his office and barraged him with calls and emails.


“They were calling me the anti-Christ of everything,” O’Neill said. “Everybody was coming after me.”


In recent years, as charter schools have proliferated – particularly those run by for-profit management companies – so too has their influence on legislators. In few other places has that been more true than Pennsylvania, which is one of only 11 states that has no limits on campaign contributions from PACs or individuals.


According to a PennLive analysis of donations on Follow The Money, a campaign donation database, charter school advocates have donated more than $10 million to Pennsylvania politicians over the past nine years.


To be sure, charter-school advocacy groups aren’t the only ones spending big to influence education policy in the Keystone State. The Pennsylvania State Education Association, which represents 170,000 teachers and related professionals, has spent about $8.3 million over the same time period according to Follow The Money.


But what perhaps makes the influx of money from charter-school groups unique in Pennsylvania is the magnitude of spending by only a handful of donors and, in recent years, some of their high-profile successes in moving and blocking legislation.


“They are mobilized,” O’Neill said. “Let me tell you something: they are mobilized.”



The series is introduced with this summation:


“It’s a plan reviled by teachers, loathed by parents, and decried by local politicians, but against huge opposition, York may become the third city in America to privatize the entirety of one of its public school districts.


“How did a public school system in the midstate rise to the forefront of a national experiment in education reform? And how did an entire community lose control of its own decision-making ability? The answer to both those questions, education researchers and public watchdogs say, lies in large part on a concerted, multi-million dollar campaign over the past decade by for-profit schools to alter Pennsylvania law.


“Those changes, and the industry lobbying that continues behind-the-scenes, have implications for teachers and students across the entire state. It’s a subject we have tackled in a series entitled “The Rise of Charter Schools in Pa.”

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