When the Washington Post throws you under the bus, you know you’ve made the big leagues. That’s the case with Chester Community Charter School in the Washington Post’s article ‘How Big a Mess is Pennsylvania’s Charter School Sector…’

I’ll honestly admit that the whole charter school thing has confused me from the beginning. Apparently, I’m not the only one confused because there always seems to be drama with charter schools in every city they operate.

Pennsylvania has argued for decades that the funding formula is destroying the traditional public school base while doing nothing but lip service to change the funding formula. School boards approve charter schools to operate in their districts knowing it will siphon funds from the schools they are elected to serve on as board members while the charters operate with their own set of rules hidden from school board members view.

Students who attend charters take the money with them that would have gone to their neighborhood public school and politely give it to the new charter school and the charter school doesn’t have to account for the money like the public school had to.

Educated people could not have come up with this confusing charter school concept, could they?

The Washington Post writes…

The charter sector in Pennsylvania has long been beset by fraud and a lack of transparency and accountability. In fact, in 2016, the state’s auditor general called the state charter law the “worst” in the nation…

In August, (Governor Wolf) said he would, among other things, use executive power to make sure charters are held to the same “ethical and transparency standards of public schools,” and allow school districts to cap the number of charters.

I guess that’s something. The fact that he’s using executive power means the state legislators must not be in agreement and the next governor can undo this action in an instant.

Gov. Wolf made a few enemies for calling charter schools what they are…private schools operating to make a profit.

“Pennsylvania must help school districts struggling with the problem of increasing amounts of school funding siphoned by private cyber and charter schools.”

Charter schools are funded by the public but are permitted to operate outside of the public school districts in which they operate, sometimes by for-profit entities…individual charter schools in Pennsylvania must be set up as nonprofit organizations, (yet) there is nothing to prohibit them from being run by for-profit organizations.

In Pennsylvania and in most states with charter schools, for-profit management agencies can help create (or find others to create) the nonprofit foundation which then contracts with the for-profit corporation to provide services to the school. In other words, the nonprofit can be designed to financially sustain the for-profit organization.

This is where Chester Community Charter comes in.

One of the most notorious (and profitable) Pennsylvania for-profit operators is CMSI Management, which operates charter schools in Chester, Pa.

According to the CCCS 990 tax return for 2017, CCCS paid Gureghian’s company $18 million in management fees that year. That amount represents 27 percent of all the income that the school received, almost exclusively from taxpayers.

The Washington Post says most schools pay about a million dollars for management, well into the single digit percentage of school income.

Vaughn Gureghian entered the charter school business in 1998 when he “partnered” with the Chester Community Charter School (CCCS) to open its first campus with fewer than 100 students. Today, the K-8 school has four campuses that enroll over 4,000 students, making it the largest bricks-and-mortar charter school in the state.

Although the school draws most of its students from the impoverished community school district of Chester Upland, more than 1,000 come from Philadelphia. CCCS says that students endure the long bus ride from the city because of the quality of its programs. Philadelphia officials attribute the enrollment of its students to a slick marketing campaign that does not disclose the poor academic performance of the charter school.

Oh boy. Here comes the stuff no one should want to hear about their school…

CCCS students perform worse on state tests than students in the school district of Chester Upland. Its students also do worse than the students attending the other charter school in town. In 2016-2017, only 5 percent of CCCS students scored as proficient in math, with a whopping 80 percent scoring below basic. Only 14 percent scored proficient in English language arts.

If I were to put a mic in someone’s face, here are the questions I’d ask…

  • How and why are only 5% of CCCS students proficient in math?
  • How and why are there over 80% of CCCS students scoring below basic in math.
  • How and why are only 14% of CCCS students proficient in English?
  • How can so many CCCS students be recognized as Honor Roll Students every year with so many failing the state’s tests?
  • What’s more important, classroom results or test results?
  • Should classroom results reflect test results?
  • Are these CCCS students smart but just can’t take a test?
  • Can smart students really be considered smart if they can’t pass a test?
  • Are test scores a reflection of the instruction or the capacity to learn?
  • If the students in the regular Chester-Upland School District are continuously getting higher test scores than the students in the Chester Community Charter School, why is the charter school allowed to stay open?

It’s hard for me to criticize CCCS. I know so many local people who are employed there that do a great job and care dearly for the students. There are local people I know on their Board of Directors. Vaughn Gureghian help fund the tutoring session I conducted last summer which, coincidentally and not by design, was attended by only students from CCCS. They build new buildings for their schools which the Chester-Upland School District hasn’t done since 1974. Their students go on to attend some of the best high schools in the area and excel. Gureghian has used a prestigious black owned public relations firm for his school since the beginning who keep their image looking bright and shiny even if their student’s state test scores are dim and dull.

A lot of people are jealous of Vaughn Gureghian’s vast wealth and how it seems he’s taking advantage of the suspect Pennsylvania charter school laws to his own advantage at the expense of the students.

I don’t know a businessman that doesn’t look to make a profit when he goes into business. PA charters schools are easy pickins’ for a guy like Gureghian. Until voters, parents, and education advocates step up, it will be allowed to continue.

The Washington Post has put Chester and its charter school on full blast for the world to read. We look bad, but don’t expect anything to change anytime soon. The education situation around here is as complicated as solving a quadradic equation.

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