by Christopher Paslay
After dismantling public education and lining his own pockets, Dwight Evans suddenly gets a conscience.
Dwight Evans, who represents the 203rd legislative district in Philadelphia, published a commentary in today’s Philadelphia Daily News headlined, “Deathly ill public ed needs state meds.” My first reaction after reading it was Is Dwight Evans off his meds?
Evans’ article begins:
I’M CALLING IT the Harrisburg Syndrome: the chronic and costly practice of refusing to invest responsibly in education.
Pause the tape right there. Since Evans is talking about the need to “invest responsibly in education,” let’s examine some of the ways Evans himself has invested in public schools.
First, there is the education legislation Dwight Evans has fought to pass—the Pennsylvania Charter School Law, which opened the floodgates for the privatization of Philadelphia’s public schools, and Acts 46 and 83, which according to the University of Pennsylvania Labor and Employment Law, “allows the Secretary of Education to declare the system in ‘distress,’ and upon making that declaration, to displace the Board of Directors of the school system and impose a five-member ‘School Reform Commission’ to take over the duties of the Board. Additionally, the Act eliminates teachers’ right to strike, and prohibits them from negotiating a number of issues for collective bargaining purposes.”
In laymen’s terms, Evans has supported laws that have taken tens of millions of dollars away from traditional public schools and put them into privately owned charters (like Evans’ own West Oak Lane Charter); laws that enabled Harrisburg to take over the Philadelphia School District; and laws that have taken away the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers’ right to strike and to collective bargain.
Then, there are Dwight Evans’ business investments. In 1983, Evans founded Ogontz Avenue Revitalization Corporation (OARC), which as of 2007 had an operating budget of $12 million. According to its website, OARC takes “a holistic approach toward community revitalization, by focusing on our Five Pillars: Housing and Economic Development, Business Development, Education and Community Relations, Cleaning and Greening, and Arts and Culture.”
Within Education and Community Relations, OARC offers charter school management, with a fundamental philosophy that “Charter schools must be run as a business . . . a business that produces a product . . . that product is a highly educated student.” OARC has also opened several charter schools of its own. In 1998 they opened the West Oak Lane Charter School, as I mentioned above, and owns the property at 2116 E. Haines Street that houses the HOPE Charter School, the Philadelphia Center for Arts and Technology, and Ombudsman.
Since Evans founded the corporation in 1983, OARC has grown by leaps and bounds, and has made many people lots of money (including Evans himself). Interestingly, though, OARC is technically a not-for-profit, 501 (c)(3), and enjoys tax-exempt status, which means they don’t pay federal income tax or property tax on their buildings.
Another one of Evans’ “investments” in education is his connection with Foundations, Inc., an education management organization that gets paid to both consult and run schools. According to an article on philly.com:
State Rep. Dwight Evans and Foundations have a long history together, dating back more than 20 years.
Foundations collaborated with the lawmaker in several after-school programs in the area and helped design West Oak Lane Charter School. Between 2006 and 2008, employees from the company donated more than $25,000 to his campaigns. Among them, chief executive Rhonda Lauer donated $3,900, chief of staff Emelio Matticoli donated $3,100 and consultant Martha Young donated $5,920.
Foundations has made millions off of the Philadelphia School District. As stated by Helen Gym on Young Philly Politics:
State Rep. Dwight Evans was a leading architect behind the state takeover of the Philadelphia Public Schools, and a company with which he has close ties, Foundations Inc., became one of the District’s first EMOs (education management organizations) as well as a major recipient of millions of dollars in school service contracts. Foundations has run Martin Luther King High School for the last eight years, taking in management fees as it ran the school. The school has not done well, to say the least, and its poor academic performance placed it on a list for “turnaround,” a national model of restructuring.
When parents of Martin Luther King’s students voted 8 – 1 to allow Mosaica Schools, Inc. to replace Foundations—Evans bragged about how he had bullied the School Reform Commission, Superintendent Ackerman, and Mosaica Schools into allowing Foundations to keep the contract to manage the school.
“I was like a bulldog on a bone,” said Evans, although Foundations was eventually forced to give up running King High School.
Amazingly, like OARC, Foundations is a not-for-profit, 501 (c)(3), and enjoys tax-exempt status.
Now, back to the ludicrous commentary Evans had in today’s Daily News. Evans writes:
A physician would look at the condition of public education in Pennsylvania and call for broad-spectrum antibiotics in the form of money. Not just your garden-variety antibiotic, but consistent, broad-based funding – similar to what’s advancing in California – to provide for the “thorough and efficient” education system called for in our state constitution.
Broad-spectrum antibiotics in the form of money.
I had to go back and reread that line several times to make sure it was really there. It was. Evans, of all people, is asking the state for more money for the Philadelphia School District. He suggests doing so by raising—get this—income taxes:
California has ordered the antibiotic. Last November, voters approved Proposition 30, which calls for income-tax increases that will boost California’s K-12 budget by roughly $1 billion.
Evans then throws in a cherry-picked statistic about corporate net-income taxes just for good measure (and to appeal to all those class warfare lovers out there):
The Harrisburg Syndrome shows no signs of abating. The House recently signed off on cutting the corporate net-income tax to 6.99 percent from 9.99 percent. That’s right – taxpayers across the state are being hammered by local school taxes while big business gets a tax cut.
And while corporations affiliated with Dwight Evans, like OARC and Foundations, pay ZERO taxes!
Perhaps the most puzzling aspect of Evans’ commentary was that he used the state of California as an example of a public education system that works (according to Education Week, California’s K-12 schools get a “C” average and rank 31 out of 50), and that Evans refers to his new educational virus as “Harrisburg Syndrome” (it was Evans who fought to pass legislation that enabled Harrisburg to take over Philadelphia public schools to begin with).
Are Philadelphia public schools and their students in desperate need of more funding? Absolutely. But the School District’s budget woes are primarily a result of fraud, waste, and abuse of the Dwight Evans variety, which hardly makes the lawmaker a credible voice for calling for more school funding on the backs of the state’s hardworking taxpayers.