THIS is what charter school “transparency” looks like under Pennsylvania’s broken charter school law.
Six months ago, we set out with a simple goal—to find out how a single cyber charter school in Pennsylvania spends millions of taxpayer dollars on advertising each year. We filed a Right to Know request with Commonwealth Charter Academy, one of Pennsylvania’s largest cyber charter schools, requesting this information.
In the end, we received hundreds of heavily redacted documents with little meaningful information and learned that in the absence of substantial reforms to PA’s charter school law, anyone who wants to learn how charters spend money on advertising will face an army of lawyers representing the charter industry and the lobbying and PR firms that benefit from the current system.
Today we sent this memo to members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly detailing the how we ended up receiving hundreds of pages of redacted documents instead of meaningful information.
Enough is enough.
It is time for state lawmakers to put the interests of the Pennsylvanians they represent above the demands of charter school industry and the lobbying/PR firms that reap obscene profits off of the payments they receive from charter schools, which are funded by property taxes.
Two documents that escaped redaction offer a deeply troubling window into how CCA spends the money it receives from school districts.
An invoice for a marketing plan dated 8-18-2018 shows that CCA spent $850,000 in three months on efforts to recruit students to their school. The Bravo Group, a Harrisburg lobbying and public relations firm, received $127,000 for its service in this invoice alone.
To put this in perspective, $850,000 could have paid for at least nine full-time school counselors or nurses or teachers or librarians to be in a school for a full year. Instead, this money was wasted on Facebook, Google, TV and radio ads aimed at increasing Commonwealth Charter Academy’s enrollment—and the tuition revenue the school would receive with additional students.
This is $7.9 million is taxpayer money that was removed from school districts that could have paid for 80 or more full-time teachers, nurses, counselors or librarians. It could have paid for hundreds of classroom aides to help students who are struggling.
Instead, it paid for advertising and profits for lobbying and PR firms.
Pennsylvanians cannot afford to continue paying higher property taxes to fund billboards.
Pennsylvania’s students cannot afford to continue going without nurses and counselors and librarians because state law mandates that school districts send charter schools millions of dollars in excess funding that they waste on TV and radio ads.
Lawmakers need to enact reforms to eliminate this waste, fraud, and abuse of taxpayer money. Please sign and share this letter with your networks and call your state lawmakers today to tell them to reform PA’s charter school law. We will hand deliver these letters to each lawmaker’s office on March 17th. Make sure your name is included!