Who Really Controls Education and our Schools in Pennsylvania?

Who really controls our schools?

I’ve been down this path before but recent activity in the York City School Districts has forced me to revisit that path.  I know it’s a long read but please, take the time to consider what is being said here.

For more than two years we’ve been hearing opposition to HB/SB 76 tell us that this bill is a loss of local control and we’ve been saying that local control is a myth.   One of the most stalwart voices of opposition to this legislation has been Rep. Seth Grove, who has been using the local control argument. Grove represent Legislative district 196 which is right next to York City where we are about to see how much local control our school boards really have.

The York city school district has been in financial trouble and they’ve been fighting a push by the Department of Education to move to Charter Schools.   In trying to solve some of the school district budget woes, the school board pushed for a 10 percent salary cut for teachers but the teachers union forced them to settled for 5 per cent.

Back in 2012, as a result of the financial problems in the school district, the Department of Education appointed David Meckley as a recovery officer as part of a Department of Education mandated recovery program. Since then Meckley has been pushing for a conversion of the York School district to become a charter school under Charter School USA (CSUSA). Based out of Florida, as of August of 2014 CSUSA managed 70 schools in Florida, Louisiana, Georgia, North Carolina, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan.   Gee, that suddenly doesn’t sound very local at all!  In fact, it sounds more like Common Core where local decisions are dependent on the decision of others who are anything but local.  So where does the CSUSA stand on the implementation of Common Core?

CSUSA is one of the largest private charter schools organizations in America. Founded in 1997.  In a recent self promotion article they said that:

““Recently, AdvancEd awarded CSUSA the first Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) district accreditation for an education management company.”

Well, before we see just who is behind AdvancEd, lets look at one of the major sponsors of the CSUSA. That would be MacGraw-Hill Publishing. A visit to their website will show you how much they love Common Core Standards. If that’s not enough Common Core Standards to excite you, try this statement:

“CSUSA has developed a scope and sequence for all subjects aligned to the Florida Sunshine State Standards and Florida Grade Level Expectations to ensure that the CSUSA curriculum is both guaranteed and viable.”

Guaranteed and viable to what?  Well, the Florida Sunshine Act is already aligned to Common Core. For the connection to Common Core Concerning AdvanceEd all you have to do is visit this page (http://www.advanc-ed.org/search/node/common%20core%20standards) and you’ll have more than enough reason to see what’s behind all of this.

In October, Teachers and Parents stood in line during a York School Board meeting to try and stop the move to push York City into one more CSUSA school.   None of that matters to the Department of Education or to David Meckley for that matter.   On Monday the Department of Education filed a petition to take over the York City School District.   The final decision will be made in the courts and that means, according to law, they must have a hearing within seven days and then make a decision within 10 days of the hearing.

If the court decides in favor of the Department of Education that means the state appointed David Meckley would hold the control of the school district except in how much the school board can levy in school property taxes. Of course, with CSUSA running the school district the spending will be set by Meckley, CSUSA and the Department of Education and the school board just gets to tell York school district residents how much they’ll pay for all of this.  Outsiders operating the York City School District will  make all the decisions and the school board will exist solely to extract a tax from the people to pay for it.  Even though the school board still has that authority, it is  a false authority because increases are still controlled at the state level where exception to exceed limits can only be granted, not by the general assembly, but by the Department of Education, who also holds the power to increase the Act 1 limitations and apportion those increases differently in different school districts.

In the meantime, if you haven’t had a reassessment in a while, a common level ratio will be applied to your property taxes all determined by yet one more state agency (the State Tax Equalization Board) once again taking those controls away from local government and placing them in the hands of one more non-elected appointed agency of government.   By they way, if the State Tax Equalization Board actually worked, we wouldn’t need reassessments.  It doesn’t and so we get to pay for reassessments that, by the time the appeal process plays out, skewers the actual effectiveness of the reassessment to begin with.

This doesn’t just affect York City schools though.   CSUSA receives a portion of their funding to operate through taxpayer money so the rest us will also be helping to pay for the York City School District along with trying to meet our own school property tax budgets. The money trail behind CSUSA is a long and complicated one that is very difficult to keep track of.  Laws have been created to allow that to exist making transparency all the more difficult for concerned citizens who are trying to find out who and what is behind moves like this.

Make no mistake.  If the people of York City School District and the school had decided, through voter referendum, to move in this direction then so be it but that’s not what’s happening here.   An unelected minority is making this decision.  I’m actually strongly in favor of the privatization of public education but this isn’t the path we should be following  to obtain that.  Frankly, looking back on what the Department of Education has done to to public education, I will admit that I have become biased enough against them to be suspect of anything they might propose.  That same bias exists towards the PSEA for me.

A decision in favor of the Department of Education would have the courts deciding in favor of a decision made by a Department of Government that is not a governing body. Of its 21 members, 17 are appointed, not elected. They in turn have appointed a recovery officer who was also not elected and the future of the school district will be in the hands of an unelected body all decided by the courts.

I also have to wonder where our General Assembly is on all of this?   Are they okay with the takeover of the York Public Schools by the Department of Education?  If not, why aren’t they trying to stop it all.  Doesn’t our Constitution say that all laws are supposed to originate with the General Assembly?  How does the Department of Education get to make such a decision without having to first take this before the entire General Assembly to seek permission to do so?

Are you angry yet?  Well think about this. These aren’t rules that are being made up as they go along. These rules already existed and they are following the rules and while it’s all legal, are we going to stop and even ask ourselves if its constitution. It all part of those massive regulations under the Public School code created in 1949 and under Title 22 of the Pennsylvania Code.

Our Commonwealth Constitution states that our General Assembly is responsible for a thorough and efficient system of public education.   Our Commonwealth Constitution also forbids the General Assembly from interfering with matters of local taxation (Article 3, Sec. 31, 32). They have, at least since 1965, been ignoring the Constitution when it comes to education and school districts. They’ve been doing this since the removed our school district from our local controls and placed them under the controls of a special department under the executive branch that has regulatory authority (legislative) combine the legislative and executive powers in a way that was NEVER intended by the founders of our Nation.

The Department of Education has been trying to get Common Core fully implemented in Pennsylvania and facing a lot of resistance in the process.   It was the public who exposed the whole process and forced the General Assembly to look in to the Federal takeover of Public Education that began snaking its way into our lives through No Child Left behind and then put on steroids under Race To The Top where stimulus money was used to bribe school districts into moving in that direction.

The Department of Education has been hell-bent on misrepresenting the facts about Common core. You might remember when the acting Secretary of the Department of Education, during a hearing on Common Core, that Common Core wouldn’t cost the state a dime. They were right, the Department of Education has always intended that the implementation of Common Core would be paid for at the local level through the school property tax. That’s money that doesn’t come out of the State revenue, it comes out of local revenue so it’s not considered part of the state budget.   Regardless of what level of government is paying for it…..it’s all still coming out of our pocket.

I have to ask myself “When the Department of Education was created, was this the intent-where the Department of Education could completely undermine a local school district?”   The creation of this came as a result of the progressive push in each of the states to create an administrative branch of government that, in large part, operates behind closed doors leaving the public unaware of what they are doing until after it’s done. In Pennsylvania, that happened in 1929.   It took another 20 years before they began to push this agenda in the creation of what is now a myriad of Departments, Agencies and Commissions, all unelected, who are setting policy and regulation that impacts both the cost and function of our local government and our schools.    In large part, our state governments have played along with this and began granting powers to these Departments, Agencies and Commissions that was certainly not the intent of the founding of our state or our nation.   Place under the Executive branch with regulatory (legislative) authority and then also have the ability to levy fines and fees which enters into the realm of judiciary, this administrative branch combines the three branches of government into one tidy little non-elected compact and in more cases than not, it is our General Assembly who is doing the bidding of these Departments Agencies and Commissions and not the other way around.

Once entrenched in our state government, the progressives moved this administrative mentality to the Federal level and all our concerns about Common Core should come as no surprise since they’ve basically been doing Common Core type control through the Federal Departments, Agencies and Commissions since the 1980’s even though neither our state nor our Federal Constitution provides for such a body in government.

It was James Madison who warned us that “The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.”

So what happens if this takeover of the York Public Schools by the unelected Department of Education is successful? Well, I guess the real answer to that question is how many school districts in the state are in serious financial trouble.   If they do this successfully in York, what’s to stop them from doing the same thing anywhere in any school district that they think needs financial restructuring?

Where is “the consent of the governed” in any of this. After all, if the people in a community really are not smart enough to figure out how to solve this problem without the interference of the PSEA, the Department of Education and everybody else, isn’t that really an indictment of the public education system to begin with? Is it really true that only a handful of appointed elites must make these decisions for us because we aren’t capable of deciding what’s best for us?

Or maybe it’s something more Back in 1966, while Progressives were pushing to separate our school districts from local controls and place them under the controls of the Department of Education they were developing another strategy. It is a strategy where you overwhelm the system so much that you break it allowing a handful of elites to come in to power all in the name of the Common Good. It was the Cloward and Piven strategy intended to incorporate socialized Fascism in America in the hands of a chosen elite “intellectual” few which, in their minds, was for the good of everyone. The rest of us hand no right to make these decisions because the elite intellectuals had already determined that we weren’t smart enough to make those kinds of choices for ourself.

They may have started with the Public Welfare system but that was never the singular intent. A study of the founders of the Progressive movement (the Fabians) made that clear and the banner carriers in the like of people like Margaret Sanger and John Dewey.   In fact, at the time, noted journalist J. T. Flyn saw the rise of liberal Fascism in America as a new type of Fascism that was “a very genteel and dainty and pleasant form of fascism which cannot be called fascism at all because it will be so virtuous and polite.”

Indeed that’s how it started but Fascism never stays in that realm and, as Madison warned “Since the general civilization of mankind, I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of freedoms of the people by gradual and silent encroachment of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.”

Think about it all for just a minute. Don’t you feel over-whelmed? Everywhere you look, all you see is more government interference into every aspect of our lives.   Common Core; Agenda 21; Illegal Immigration; Corporate and Public Welfare;, Wage controls; Nationalized Healthcare; Rights to Life, Liberty and Property being trampled. The NSA, the FDA, the EPA, the NDAA, the IRS, the DOE and the list goes on and on, all unelected and all telling us how to live our lives. None of this just happened; the foundation for this takeover of our lives has been a process that has been building for more than 100 years utilizing those gradual and silent encroachments of our liberties, often in the name of the common good.

Sometimes it’s hard to remember that we started on a simple premise in the belief that just governments derive their powers from the consent of the governed, not the power of some elitist government agency, and that the reason we created government in the first place was for the mutual protections, not elimination, of our right to property-life, real estate and income.

Let’s return to Madison one more time: “The sober people of America are weary of the fluctuating policy which has directed the public councils. They have seen with regret and indignation that sudden changes and legislative interferences, in cases affecting personal rights, become jobs in the hands of enterprising and influential speculators, and snares to the more-industrious and less informed part of the community. They have seen, too, that one legislative interference is but the first link of a long chain of repetitions, every subsequent interference being naturally produced by the effects of the preceding.”

Let’s admit something.  Public Education really isn’t a local entity and local control really is a myth.  If it was, the York School would have gotten their 10 percent pay cut and the unions would have been able to interfere with it.  If it was, the Department of Education (whose appointed members often come out of the PSEA) wouldn’t be calling the shots in York.  The education of our children should not be isolated to zip codes and street addresses.

Education is mandated by the state.  It is controlled by the state and its supposed to be under the absolute control of the General Assembly (read Article 3, Section 30).  We need school boards and they should primarily exist to control curriculum choices in making sure some political agenda is not controlling that curriculum.  They should be fundraising machines to pay for the excesses of the Department of Education.   If the state legislator feels that our teachers deserve a pension then let them provide for one that conforms to the same types of pensions available to the private sector who pay for those pensions that many in the private sector can only dream about.  If the Teachers  unions want to levy more money from the government then let them do it like the rest of us, through the legislative process, not through private negotiations withheld from the people who’ll be paying for it until after the decisions have been made by lawyers for the school board and lawyers for the Union.

We need a system of funding for education that meets the needs of our children but, at the same time, isn’t growing faster than the rate of inflation or the CPI.   We have to live within our means.

Most importantly, the funding of education, while necessary, should never come at the price of taxing someone out of their home.  The funding of education should come through ability to pay through income blended with a consumption tax reflecting ability of purchase.  While everyone is paying the same percentage, those who earn more pay more but they still pay the same percentage of their income.  In consumption, the same must apply.

It should never be based on an estimation of property worth as it is with the current assessment of property where market values may actually be lower or higher than the assessed value meaning some are paying taxes on property the don’t actually own and others are not paying property taxes on property they do.

It must be devoid of all the exemption based legislation that exists related to the education in regards to school property tax.  You can not have uniformity in taxation is one person qualifies for an exemption that others do not.

It must apply cost controls for future spending to bring education spending back under control.  It must also make the state legislative body financially accountable for all mandates passed down to the local level.

We also need funding for this separated from the general fund where, in plentiful years, a portion can be put on reserve to help during more difficult economic time and anything exceeding that amount generates a reduction in the income tax and not a excuse by the legislators to take that money and divert it somewhere else.

It must also realize that there is a drastic difference between property tax to fund education and property tax to fund local government.  They are different animals completely and the County and Municipal tax requires that it primarily be funded through local means by those directly using those services at the local level.  Education, while taking place in our municipalities is not local.   Our curriculum isn’t local, the rules regarding education are not local.   Our school boards, like our public safety bodies like police and public health are bodies of government and not governing bodies.  Granting them a taxing authority outside of local budgetary controls  to begin with was a mistake.

The only way to do that is to completely eliminate the school property tax and replace it with a flat tax applied to income and sales tax.

There is only one bill that went before the legislative body that meets all of this criteria and that bill was HB/SB 76.

Yes, we need to break the backs of the unfunded mandates forced on our schools through the regulations of the Department of Education.  Yes we need to fix the broken funding formula from 1991.l  Yes we need to put an end to the Cadillac pensions and yes, education has a spending problem.

I am firmly convinced that until we move all mandatory funding of education back to the state level where it all originates while leaving funding for special district specific school needs that including building projects and renovations only through no-exemption voter referendum, we probably won’t see any of the other reforms that are needed related to education because they’ll always have the property tax through the school boards to push it all on us even if that means you have to sell your home or be forced out of it through tax seizure.   That way they can keep telling us they aren’t raising our state taxes, even though they are directly responsible for many of the increases we see locally through the school property tax.

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