Educational Détente

The superintendent of Pittsburgh Public Schools wants to move relations with the charter schools in the City from what it is now, which she described as "certainly not a happy, collaborative one" to something else, where perhaps the PPS can learn by talking. About 10% of the PPS’ $520 million budget goes to pay for students living in the District but attending brick and mortar or cyber charter schools. The most recent audited financial statement on PPS’ website (for fiscal year 2009) showed that the ratio of PPS students to all charter students was 9.5 to 1. In 2002 the ratio was 36.6 to 1-slipping enrollment in the PPS (down 25% over that time frame) and a large boost in charter school enrollment will have that effect.

That is for total (brick and mortar and cyber) but from the article it does not appear that the superintendent is going to seek out the leadership of cyber charters, so a deeper look at the charter schools with a physical presence in the City of Pittsburgh is warranted. From the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s institution search within the Pittsburgh-Mt. Oliver intermediate unit it is shown that nine charter schools are in the City. Several CEOs of these schools were mentioned in the article, including one that has been around since 1998 and commented that relations in the beginning were "very adversarial…very tense".

Five charters in the City-Academy, Career Connections, City High, Manchester, and Urban League-reported total enrollment of 1,342 in the 2006-07 school year. With 30,885 students enrolled in PPS that year, the ratio of PPS students to students in those charters was 23 to 1. In 2011-12, those same five charters had boosted enrollment to 1,511 (up 13%) while PPS enrollment fell to 26,653 (down 14%). The ratio stood at 17 PPS to 1 charter student. It is important to note that two additional charters opened since 2008 and there are additional applications pending. In 2011-12 the nine charters in the City had a total enrollment of 2,284.

Has the passage of time and seeing the staying power of several charters led to the change in attitude on the part of PPS in seeking the meeting? Or is it simply different people in positions of power who may not be as openly hostile to charters? Is PPS trying to get some "trade secrets" on what the charters are doing well in order to emulate them and head off future enrollment and financial losses?

The Year without a Strike…Almost

Pennsylvania is the perennial leader in teacher strikes among the small group of states that actually permit them. But the 2011-12 school year was shaping up to be something of a rarity: a school year without a strike. The first months of the school year came and went and there were no strikes until the Neshaminy School District in Bucks County announced on Monday that the teachers’ union had given notice that they were going on strike. It is not yet known how long they will be out but per Act 88 guidelines the District has to complete 180 days by June 14th but a second strike could extend the school year to June 30th.

According to the most recent Department of Education data the District has about 9,400 students and its per student spending is over $16,000.

Data that we have compiled from the PA School Boards Association goes back to the 1976-77 school year but the school years from 1992-93 on are the "Act 88 years" in that they followed the passage of the statute aimed at curtailing school strikes. Last year, the 2010-11 year was the lowest count of strikes and all of them (3 in total) occurred in Allegheny County. The 1992-93 year had 20 strikes, the highest in the Act 88 time period.

The education establishment might be quick to celebrate a year with just one strike, if Neshaminy is indeed the only strike that happens this year. However, since they believe that "no child should be left behind" or that "the only acceptable number of layoffs or forloughs is zero", why should they not be held to the zero acceptable standard when it comes to strikes?