Advertising Public Education

Does your local public school have money to make slick commercials ready for prime time? Can it put up billboards along all our major highways and on the sides of buses advertising for students? Does its name pop up at the top of your Google searches? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

Yet charter schools are allowed to take our public taxpayer dollars and use them to advertise. Around here, PA Cyber Charter is one of the biggest spenders on this kind of publicity (they are also the largest cyber charter in the state, which speaks to their recruiting prowess).

But one local teacher decided he would like to share the good things going on in his public school system: have you seen this commercial that just started airing last week? [Click here or on photo below to go to page with the video.]

Sto-Rox High School chemistry teacher Josh Lucas raised $2,600 from the community, including parents and teachers, to produce the commercial, which is now showing on KDKA-TV and WPCW. The Post-Gazette reports that the Sto-Rox district “has struggled academically and financially for years and faces a significant threat from the Propel charter school organization, which has a pending charter application to open a K-12 school in McKees Rocks that would eventually serve 800 students.” [Post-Gazette, 9-11-12]

With only 1,400 students in the district currently, that strikes me as a charter school literally threatening to take over an entire public system of education in one of our communities. Last year, the Sto-Rox board rejected Propel’s charter proposal, but Propel appealed and now the two groups must negotiate an agreement by this Thursday. Does anyone really think the district can survive with just a few hundred students left?

Look at what is happening to the Duquesne school district, which is on the verge of total collapse thanks to years of under-funding from the state, compounded by other problems. The state sent all of its 7th through 12th graders to neighboring school districts (then paid them less per student than it actually costs to educate them, fanning the flames of resentment in those communities and resulting in nasty counter-charges of racism). Now the state is literally taking away local control from the residents of Duquesne: State Education Secretary Ron Tomalis made a preliminary declaration placing the district in financial recovery. The district has until today to request a hearing, but if it doesn’t, the declaration becomes final and the state will name a Chief Recovery Officer (CRO). [Post-Gazette, 9-15-12]

Remember how Sec. Tomalis put the fox in charge of the henhouse when he named Joe Watkins to oversee Chester Uplands school district? (See “Taking the Public out of Public Education.”) That could easily happen here. And even without one of Governor Corbett’s top cronies in the position of CRO, the state will have the power to convert what remains of the district to a charter school or to bring in an educational management company. Either way, that’s more public money going to private corporations. Not to mention the loss of another public school system.

What are communities without strong public schools? It doesn’t have to be this way. This is really about priorities. We have a voice and we can make a difference. Some of us can even make great commercials and raise enough community support to put them on the air.

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