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Pennsylvania City May Go All-Charter

A state judge has paved the way for York, Penn. to become the first in the country to switch to an all-charter model for school governance.

The York City School District has been failing for years, struggling with both weak academic outcomes as well as severe budget shortfalls. Now, a ruling released Friday by judge Stephen Linebaugh places York’s schools into a receivership under the control of David Meckley, a local businessman who has been the district’s chief recovery officer since 2012. The change in status was requested by Pennsylvania’s Department of Education on December 1.

As the receiver, Meckley will for three years have nearly total power to control hiring, budgeting and other policies in the district. In his role as the recover officer, Meckley has already outlined a plan to place all of the city’s public schools under the control of Charter Schools USA, a for-profit school management company that serves over 50,000 students at 70 schools across the country.

With the district in receivership, Meckley will be able to implement his plan unilaterally regardless of local opposition. While he is expected to do so, Meckley has yet to issue any statement or comments following the ruling.

The plan to privatize the city’s schools has been sharply opposed by the district itself, as well as by the Pennsylvania School Boards Association and Democratic Gov.-elect Tom Wolf, who hails from the city.

Critics argue the move is a last-minute grab for power by Republicans before outgoing Gov. Tom Corbett leaves office on January 20. Meckley was appointed by Corbett, whose administration has frequently promoted charter and private schools while coming into conflict with representatives of the traditional public school system. Corbett has also been accused of engineering the financial distress which led to the receivership, because of changes to education funding that were made during his tenure.

“One could easily posit that Governor Corbett’s game plan has been to starve public education to justify privatization,” argued state representative Kevin Schreiber in a statement. “[Now,] that plan has been implemented successfully.”

Opponents of the receivership have pledged to appeal, but if the conversion ultimately goes through, York City will likely become a closely-watched national experiment. A total conversion to charter schools has never been attempted before, although New Orleans, Louisiana comes close with over 90 percent of its students attending charters.

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