When your school district makes the Washington Post, you are either really good or really bad. Which do you think is the reason Chester-Upland School District made the Post?

Folks who have followed the CUSD saga around here will find no surprises in the Post’s article. With a little effort to search this blog you could cobble together the whole story right from here. The Post article does a great job stringing most of the issues into one quick read that will have sympathetic readers shaking their heads and a lot of locals saying ‘What’s new?’

Not surprisingly, I’ve been accused of always sharing bad news about the Chester Community Charter School but they refuse to add me to their mailing list when they send out the good news about themselves, although, you will find a few good news posts here when I share them from different sources when I run across them. So, I’m left to share what we all read in the newspapers (for those of us who read papers).

Once again, I’ll do what I do and highlight the key passages from this Washington Post article.

It is no surprise, therefore, that during the covid-19 pandemic, a small, struggling school district in Chester, Pa., finds itself on the brink of having its pre-K to 8 schools run by a for-profit charter management company known as CSMI.

Even they say it’s no surprise even though a lot of folks always seem surprised when the facts come out. 

CCCS asked the Delaware County Court to order the district and state to seek proposals to allow charter schools to educate all of Chester Upland’s students, from pre-K through eighth grade…“the charter did not ask that it be the only operator considered, but its management company [CSMI] said it is positioned to expand if the court moves ahead with the plan.”

As the good guy trying to help, the Chester Community Charter School offered the judge a solution to the Chester-Upland School District problems by suggesting they, or any other operator, be considered to take over the district. That was nice of them. After further review, the judge decided that was a great idea and ruled that it shall be. 

Maura McInerney, legal director of the nonprofit Education Law Center (ELC) said she is concerned that students may be forced into attending lower-performing schools.

The provision that permits other operators to take over a school district includes a clause that a take over should result in improved education results. However…

PSSA [Pennsylvania System of School Assessment] testing in math, English language arts, and science…2019 profile score for CCCS (40.7 percent) is significantly lower than that of other district schools,” such as Stetser (66.5 percent); Main Street (55.5 percent), and Chester Upland School of the Arts (56.4 percent).”

See, the business of education isn’t as much a factor of education over finance because…

…despite its poor academic record, in 2017 Peter R. Barsz, the receiver appointed by Dozor who oversaw the financially distressed district, renewed Chester Community Charter School for an additional five years just one year into its new renewal term. In doing so, he gave the charter school a nine-year pass no matter how poorly its students might do.

It cost a lot of money to manage Chester Community Charter Schools. 

In 2014-15, state data showed that CCCS had the highest administration expenses of any charter school in Pennsylvania. With total expenditures just shy of $56.6 million, over $26.1 million, or 46 percent, was spent on administration, while $18.8 million, or 33 percent of total expenditures went toward instruction.

Chester-Upland School District is one of a kind in the worst way…

It would be difficult to find a more underfunded district with more challenges than the Chester Upland School District, which has been in financial trouble for years. It would also be hard to find a district that serves a more disadvantaged student population. According to the district’s recovery plan, every student in the district (100 percent) is eligible for free lunch, 89 percent of the students are black, and 4 percent are Hispanic. Twenty-two percent are students with disabilities.

The funding formulas are not friendly to public schools who approve charter schools they allow to operate in their district.

Chester Upland, with almost 47 percent of funds leaving the district for charter school tuition. At first glance, it might appear as though 47 percent is a savings given that 60 percent of the district’s elementary students attend Chester Community Charter School. However, it is important to keep in mind that the education of elementary students is far less expensive than that of high school students who need laboratory sciences, specialized courses, guidance counselors, and extracurricular activities such as sports. Chester Community Charter Schools is only interested in educating the district’s K-8 students. CCCS has a track record of poorly serving students with the most significant disabilities. The pattern of charter schools having fewer students with more severe disabilities is found across the state.

Third graders are less expensive to educate than 11-graders and special education students have a wide range of costs according to the student need. CCCS specializes in serving the less expensive ones.  

One would think the Chester Upland School Board, although it has little authority in receivership, would nevertheless advocate for the independence of the school. That assumption would not be correct. School board president Anthony Johnson has stated that he wasn’t troubled by the for-profit status of the Chester Community Charter School’ management company and that he was open to charter expansion.

Fred Green and them are okay with a charter take over. 

The recent appointment of Carol Birks as superintendent also signals the board’s interest in allowing charter expansion and governing control of the public schools. Birks made it clear that she believes parents have the right to choose between charter and public schools and that she has “no preference.”

The new superintendent doesn’t play favorites between the district and the charters. 

…the Education Law Center, along with the Public Interest Law Center, intervened in the case both on behalf of Parents of Chester Upland School District as well as the Delaware County Advocacy & Resource Organization to challenge the CCCS petition to include charter school conversions to become part of the district’s recovery plan.

At least there’s someone out here putting up a fight. Back to my original point…

The story of Chester Upland is a cautionary tale of what occurs when public schools are financially abandoned, and charters are allowed to swoop in, placing such an enormous financial strain on the schools that a disastrous downward spiral begins.

If you were to call a thing a thing, it would be called systemic racism. Systems like state and local government in education and justice, charter schools and their expensive management structures, along with the hardened  resistance to consolidate school districts throughout the county to create a balance among rich and poor districts for the simple purpose of pretending to support equal education all plays a part.

“Chester Upland School District is a stark example of the high cost of inadequate and inequitable school funding and the disproportionate impact of underfunding on students of color. It needs significant investments and support from the state to effectively serve the significant number of students living in deep poverty who have been harmed by entrenched underfunding and horrific deprivation of basic school resources. Instead, conversion to charter control is being pursued as an ‘out’ when we should focus our attention on creating a sustainable path to local control.“

In the end, it’ll all be blamed on COVID-19 anyway.