“The diversion of public dollars to a private end is a major challenge for us” (5)

(5th in a series on Education)

Now let’s look at the other speakers at Lehigh Valley 4 All’s Education Summit.

(By the way, this is the second meeting of Lehigh Valley 4 All that Gadfly has attended, and that organization has made a very good impression.)


Here are audio recordings and summaries of the five speakers relating to charter schools. If Gadfly were to boil the presentations down, he would say that there is no gripe about the quality of the local charter schools, but the diversion of public dollars to a private end is a major challenge. The gripe from the traditional public school perspective is that the funding formula is flawed, weighing heavily in favor of the charter schools. And the practice in regard to special ed students is resulting in a higher concentration of lower needs students in charters. The Pa. Association of School Administrators has identified 11 reforms that are easy and inexpensive to implement, but recent legislative attempts have actually been in the wrong direction. Outlook not good.

As we continue to think about the charter school issue, among things that Gadfly would like to know are the exact amount of the BASD payment to charter schools, which schools they are, and how many students are attending charter schools.

Joseph Roy, BASD Superintendent (7 mins.)

“Do we believe in public schools for the public good that serve all children, or do we want to move toward privatization?” Since the 80s there’s been a move from public good and service to privatizing everything. Under the guise of choice, there’s been a movement away from the good of the community to the good of the individual, a notion that everything can be solved through the market. The crux: what’s the agenda behind the privatization movement? We have become consumers, a market. A market solution has been imposed on an inherently public good. And it doesn’t work. We see corruption in charter schools (though not in Bethlehem). Charter schools are publicly funded but privately run. They don’t have elected boards, so we remove them from the notion of a public good under the direction of an elected school board. The diverting of public dollars to privately run schools is a major issue. $1.5billion/yr in Pa. goes to charter schools. vouchers/opportunity dollars go to private and parochial schools. “The diversion of public dollars to a private end is a major challenge for us.” If that money stayed in the public system, we’d have a lot less issues with money for the public schools.

Richard Sniscak, Parkland SD Superintendent (9 mins.)

Many costs rising, but charter schools continue to tax budgets. For instance: Allentown $50m, Bethlehem $30m, Parkland $4m. And Parkland doesn’t even have charter schools within the district but are transporting students outside our district. There are good and bad public schools as well as good and bad charter schools. So that’s not his focus. His focus is on the funding of charter schools. Pa. charter school law is obsolete and increasingly out-of-date – especially for cyber charter schools. Pa. Association of School Administrators published a white paper in 2018 to address systemic flaws within the current law, and he went over the 11 recommendations. For instance, change funding formula, change cost of funding special ed students, address over-identification (?), teachers must meet same certification requirements as in public schools (applause!), evaluate by same measures as traditional public schools (applause!), scrutinize lower performance that traditional public schools, school districts have power to oversee charter schools, appeal boards must be composed of neutral members, fill-in discrepancies must be reconciled, transparency of finances, enrollment practices free of discrimination. These things are “low hanging fruit,” easily dealt with without cost, but have eluded legislative change. “Money for charter schools in Pa. is deeply flawed. It is based upon a formula that’s not reflective of actual cost, especially for cyber charter schools.” The funding is based on the cost per student in the sending school. That cost includes lots of things not included in a charter school’s costs, such as extra-curricular cost and busing/transportation. Thus, public schools send more money than is needed to operate charter schools. “Windfall for charter schools and a deficit for public schools.” Gives examples of “excessively high” tuition rates.

Susan Spick, President, Education Voters (10 mins.)

Charters can be managed by a for-profit company, with a different objective than educating students, and a different way of reporting their finances. Cost in Bethlehem 2016-2017 was $10,600 for a regular student and almost $23,000 for a special ed student. There are 2 things that should happen in Harrisburg. Our state funds about 37% of what it takes to educate a student, national average is closer to 50%. We are 46th in the nation for state finding of public schools. Money is not spread in equitable ways and also grossly inadequate. Public schools everywhere are struggling, and effort is needed to bring charter schools funds back into the system. Quality of education in cyber charter schools is abysmal. Not educating students yet taking in 1/2billion dollars a year. Legislature caved to charter school lobby on funding formula for special ed students. No relationship whatsoever between what the charter school gets to educate a special ed student and what it actually costs. Gives egregious example. Funding formula creates a big disincentive for charter schools to admit students with significant disabilities. “Perverse disincentive.” Students with less expensive disabilities go to charter schools. Charter schools all over the state are reaping a surplus from this funding formula. Children are being segregated by disabilities, and educational segregations turns out, in effect to be racial segregation. Issue is morally wrong as well as financial.

Steve Samuelson, State Representative, 135th District (14 mins.)

Funding: 70% local, 25% state, 5% federal. Gov. Wolf had made education a priority. Still feeling effects of big cuts in 2008. Just now coming back to that level. There have been some bills for charter school reform, but they tend to get stuck in committee. One bill that get to the floor went in the wrong direction, taking authorizing of charters away from the local school board.  Another bill would stack the appeal board in favor of charters. There was a bill to requite “paid for by tax dollars.” Another regarding teacher evaluation adding charter schools also failed. 3 specific proposals coming up to equalize public and charter schools.

Mike Schlossberg, State Representative, 132nd District (7 mins.)

We are lucky in the Lehigh Valley. Most of our charter schools are good. Most of the charter problems are in Phila., and they drive the conversation. Cyber charters are a major problem. Pa has high property taxes, 6th in nation, but concentrated in impoverished or rapidly growing school districts, go west and property taxes are fine. Can’t eliminate property taxes but can control, rebates, for instance. Property taxes are the only things major corporations pay. Poverty going up in suburban as well as urban areas. Lack of education funding is the key. Important as funding is it isn’t enough. If kids don’t go home to a safe environment, it’s a waste. Need wrap-around programs.

Charter Schools: Accentuating the positive, again (4)

(4th in a series on Education)

Gadfly was mistaken, was looking at an older list of participants. There was a representative from charter schools on the panel at last night’s Lehigh Valley 4 All Education Summit – Lisa Pluchinsky of the Dual Language Charter School, 675 E. Broad St. The principal of Charter Arts was also in the audience.

The focus of Charter Arts that we profiled last time is the performing arts. Here the focus is “dual language,” diversity: “The goal is bilingualism/biculturalism for all students.”

Gadfly started this thread to get to know more about charter schools and especially because of the negativity seemingly surrounding them in the public mind because of the tax burden and poor quality administration and education (cf. the Catasauqua charter mentioned in the last post).

So, Gadfly thought noteworthy this comment in the lead-off talk last night by Dr. Roy, BASD Superintendent (who, as I said earlier, one rarely sees his name without “a vocal critic of charter schools” pinned to it): “We now have become consumers, imposing a market solution on an inherently public good. And it doesn’t work. And we’ve seen it in the world of charter schools, where there’s many times where the charters become profit-making – and I will say, not here in our district – not the charters in our district – but many places we see all types of challenges around corruption, basically becoming profit-makers, or at least profit-makers for the landlords.”

So, with that positive nod from Dr. Roy, let’s look at another Bethlehem charter school before, in subsequent posts, we try to understand the problems and criticism.

Lehigh Valley Dual Language Charter School

Principal Pluchinsky provides a nice statistical overview and statement of educational goals:

And answers a question about how the school is evaluated:

From the web site:

MISSION: The mission of LVDLCS is to create a community of bilingual, multicultural, life-long learners committed to academic excellence and leadership while celebrating diversity and identity.

VISION: Our vision is a community of bilingual and bi-cultural, life-long learners committed to excellence and dedicated to learning and leadership.

CORE VALUES: We believe that we are a community that is made stronger through its diversity.

WHY A CHARTER SCHOOL IN BETHLEHEM? Across the Lehigh Valley, school districts have struggled to meet the needs of linguistically diverse students for a variety of reasons. We envision filling this need through the establishment of a K-8 free public charter school that is smaller, more personable, and founded on instructional strategies and techniques that meet the unique needs of our linguistically diverse students.

INSTRUCTION: The teachers will be extensively trained in dual language instruction. The students will benefit from their teachers’ use of cutting-edge instructional strategies such as Cognitive Academic Language Learning Approach (CALLA) and Sheltered Instruction Operational Protocol (SIOP). Effective, meaningful Spanish language instruction in the content areas will be provided for native English speakers. The goal is bilingualism/biculturalism for all students.

CEO/COO Ms. Elsie Perez.; Principal, Ms. Lisa Pluchinsky; among Founding Coalition Directors is Councilwoman Olga Negron; Board president, Ms. Raiza Roman

Principal’s Corner:

“We are dedicated to providing all students with the educational foundation necessary to succeed in school and in life.  Not only does our educational commitment focus on Language Arts and Math, we also provide a rich educational experience in the Spanish language.  Spanish class, science, and social studies are all delivered by quality, bilingual staff to ensure the LVDLCS students succeed in two languages.  We continue to strive to meet each student’s educational needs in both languages.”

“Please remember that parents are responsible to complete 25 hours of volunteer service for the school.  There are many different ways to complete these hours from volunteering in the cafeteria, working in the classroom, completing projects for the classroom teacher, donating necessary items, attending workshops and events at the school, and also participating in an approved educational program.  Please call the school office if you have questions about completing volunteer hours.”

Our School: Fully immersive dual language classes, Small Class Sizes, Multidisciplinary Project, Individualized Attention

So we’ve now had a chance to look at two of our local charter schools in an educational positive light and are ready to learn about the financial ramifications that create a lot of the negative noise.

Charter Schools: Accentuating the positive (3)

(3rd in a series on Education)

Yesterday Gadfly posted a notice about the Education Summit tonight. Charter schools are among the topics for discussion. But I see there are about a dozen people on the panel, and no one identified seems to be from a charter school. Therefore I’m neither sure how much time can be given to charter schools nor what balance there will be.

Gadfly likes balance in the discovery stage.

So let’s accentuate the positive.

Some charter schools are or have been a complete mess, right? Out of the corner of my mind, I have been following the saga in Catasauqua, and, in fact, there is an article on the front page of this morning’s print edition of the Call about it:

Steve Esack, “Catasauqua schools must be reimbursed for defunct charter school’s pension obligations, court rules.” Morning Call, January 22, 2019.

But the only charter school in Bethlehem that I, frankly, can place is Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Arts, 321 E. 3rd St. (I have a hard time thinking of schools without playgrounds!) What and where are the others? But I guess it doesn’t matter, for, as I understand it, charter schools are not bound by the kinds of boundaries public schools are.

Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Arts

In 2018 Charter Arts ranked 46th in Pennsylvania and was the highest-ranking school in the Lehigh Valley in the U.S. News & World Report ranking.

In 2018 the “U.S. Department of Education awarded the [Charter Arts] as a Blue Ribbon School, which recognizes the state’s highest performing schools” – one of only 20 charter schools nationally so recognized.

National Blue Ribbon Schools Program

2018 National Blue Ribbon Schools: Charter Schools

That’s pretty hot stuff.

 From the Charter Arts web site:

“The Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Arts provides a unique environment that fosters a creative academic approach to learning and a development of talent in the arts. Built upon passion, discipline and a commitment to excellence, this integrative educational experience inspires all students to believe in themselves and what they can accomplish.”

Mario Acerra is President of the Board of Directors, Dianne LaBelle is executive director and CEO, and Carise Comstock is the Principal.

“The sponsoring districts for Charter Arts are the Bethlehem Area School District and the Northampton Area School District.  These two districts renew the charter every five years. Northampton Area School District renewed the Charter Arts charter in June 2012, and the Bethlehem Area School District renewed the Charter Arts charter in June 2013.”

“Charter schools receive public funds from the sending school district of a child who chooses to attend.  A charter school receives 75% of the funding for that student.  The student’s sending/home school district utilizes a funding formula developed by the Pennsylvania Department of Education (form 363) and can deduct more than 20 categories of expenditures from their budget that are not passed on to charter schools.”

The Performer (in effect, the school newspaper)

According to the Morning Call: Begun in 2003, “The Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Arts enrolls more than 600 students. Academically, it’s one of the best in the area: 94 percent of students passed the English Keystone exam last year, while 73 percent passed algebra and 85 percent passed biology. The school has a 99 percent graduation rate.”

Ok, I’ll report on anything pertinent tonight, and we’ll continue to go deeper into the controversy.

Charter Schools: Let’s reset (2)

(2nd in a series on Education)

Prothero, Arianna. (2018, August 9). Charter Schools. Education Week.

The impact of charter schools on our taxes has been significant, and Gadfly has wanted to investigate and learn more.

So Gadfly started a thread on charter schools a week ago, suggesting we start with a 2017 article focused on Bethlehem.

That was a mistake.

That Carol Burris article took me into the mud too deeply and too fast.

Let’s reset with the above basic article in the respected Education Week for a big picture overview.


“As the first credible competition to the traditional system of public schooling—and a direct competitor for tight resources—charter schools are the source of ongoing controversy and debate.”

What Are Charter Schools? How Do They Work?

  • a tuition-free school of choice that is publicly funded but independently run
  • conceived to loosen red tape around public schools
  • conceived to free up educators to innovate
  • exempted from many of the state laws and regulations that govern public schools
  • bound to the terms of a contract, or “charter,” that lays out a school’s mission, academic goals, fiscal guidelines, and accountability requirements
  • enjoying the “charter bargain”: more freedom for more accountability
  • do not draw students from an assigned area
  • families choose to send their children

Who Runs Charter Schools?

  • a school leader or principal overseen by an appointed board
  • unlike public schools, not overseen directly by an elected school board
  • an authorizer with power to approve and close down
  • a growing share are run by larger management organizations

Are Charter Schools Non-Profit?

  • many of the best-known networks are run by nonprofit charter management organizations, or CMOs
  • some states allow for-profit companies, education management organizations, EMOs
  • non-profit schools may hire for-profit companies to manage the school

How Are Charter Schools Funded?

  • state and local money based on the number of students enrolled
  • federal funds to provide special education services

Are They Public or Private?

  • a source of debate depending on how you define a public school
  • generally viewed under state laws as public schools whose students are required to take all the same assessments as those who attend traditional district schools


  • classroom innovation
  • freedom of choice
  • competition for students spurs improvement
  • alternative curricular approaches
  • focus on specific fields of study
  • virtual or cyber schools


  • divert vital resources from cash-strapped school districts
  • educate proportionately fewer students with disabilities
  • cherry-pick students
  • punitive discipline practices
  • more racially segregated
  • financial mismanagement
  • nepotism

Effectiveness: What the Research Says

  • mixed, contradictory

Ok, now Gadfly feels a little bit better. How about you?

Most charters are a big negative (2)

(2nd in a series of posts on Education)


The idea of charter schools as a way to pilot new ideas & approaches was a good idea, because they be somewhat experimental and parents could decide whether it was right for their children. If successful, public schools could then adopt that model.

As implemented, charter schools are a mixture of new ideas and things the school district is already doing or wants to do. Children with special needs are routinely excluded. Profiteering through related companies is rampant. Covert segregation is also often a problem. Although many charters pay staff lower, non-union salaries, their cost to the district is very high due to the way payments are calculated.

Charters could have been a valuable addition to the field of education, but as a result of how they were implemented, most charters are a big negative.

Peter Crownfield

(Peter is way ahead of Gadfly here, who sees most of the news he’s come across on charter schools is negative but wants to withhold judgment till he understands the situation more. Sounds like we are going to need some charter school advocates to speak up if we are going to have a balanced view. If the source of the money is the big negative issue, Gadfly wonders if that is fixable. But, again, Gadfly doesn’t know enough to judge yet and is just trying to understand the problem. He believes that an issue regarding athletic teams — basketball — recruiting — has hit the sports pages: that he understands!!!!)


Let’s think about our charter schools (1)

(1st in a series on Education)

Jacqueline Palochko, “WATCHDOG: Lehigh Valley arts charter high school looking to receive state money for lease.” Morning Call, December 22, 2018.

The Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Arts will take advantage of a loophole that allows charter schools to collect lease reimbursements from the state while paying rent to foundations that support them. Under state law, charter schools can apply for partial reimbursement of leasing costs as long as the school does not own the building it’s in.

Carol Burris, “Can charter schools be reformed? Should they be?” Washington Post, December 16, 2018.

The bottom line is this. It is foolish to fund a parallel system of privately managed schools at the expense of the nation’s public schools.

These two recent articles reminded Gadfly that he’s wanted to think more about the fiscal AND educational impact of charter schools in Bethlehem.

On this subject, one rarely sees the name of our superintendent Joseph Roy’s name without “a vocal critic of charter schools” pinned to it.

(I’ve invited Dr. Roy to follow Gadfly, but as far as I can tell, he hasn’t taken me up on that. But school board president Michael Faccinetto has published on the subject of charter schools and does follow. Can somebody nudge Dr. Roy? Tell him this is where the elite meet!)

The fiscal impact seems to dominate the news.

Last year Dr. Roy pointed to charter schools as the reason for our 2.5% tax increase.

In the above “Watchdog” article, Dr. Roy says, “As the auditor general found, this [Lehigh Valley Arts] charter worked around existing laws to avoid the public bidding rules public schools must follow. Now, this taxpayer-funded, privately run school is using another loophole to get their hands on more tax dollars for paying themselves rent.”

Gadfly – whose own memories are stirred when CM Reynolds talks of his “beloved Thomas Jefferson” –would like to know more about charter schools and proposes to explore the subject over the course of several posts.

The local coverage of the above WAPO article referenced an earlier 2017 WAPO article based directly on Bethlehem. Wow! What did WAPO have to say about us? Let’s start our exploration right there.

Carol Burris, “A disturbing look at how charter schools are hurting a traditional school district.” Washington Post, January 9, 2017.

It has not been easy supporting the [Bethlehem] public schools, however, given the financial challenges of the city. In addition, the district suffered a financial crisis in 2008 and then reeled under massive cuts in state aid in the 2011-12 school year. But the worst hit of all has come from the continuing and increasing siphoning of district dollars to charter schools — a whopping $25 million this year alone.

The news always seems bad. Say it isn’t so.

Since you may need a subscription to access this article, Gadfly has copied it here: charter 3.

Read, and we’ll come back in a day or two to begin our conversation.