John Oliver takes on Pennsylvania charter schools on ‘Last Week Tonight’
Last Week Tonight host John Oliver turned his attention to charter schools and their shortcomings on Sunday night, with Pennsylvania laws and Philadelphia schools serving as examples of why the institutions are something of gamble when it comes to our children’s education.
Last Week Tonight host John Oliver turned his attention to charter schools and their shortcomings on Sunday night, using Pennsylvania laws and Philadelphia schools as examples of why he believes the institutions are something of gamble when it comes to education.
"Charter schools unite both sides of the aisle more quickly than when a wedding DJ throws on 'Hey Ya,' " Oliver said to kick off his piece, further noting that the first charters emerged 25 years ago as a way to explore new approaches to education.
Now, about 6,700 such schools exist in the United States. But, as Oliver pointed out Sunday, "around the country, there have been charter schools so flawed, they don't make it through the school year."
Here in Pennsylvania, Auditor General Eugene DePasquale earlier this year said the state has "the worst charter school law in the United States." Oliver, for his part, agreed.
"That is not good," Oliver said of Pennsylvania's charter laws. "It is not like having the worst 'something' is new for Pennsylvania. Remember, this is the state that has the worst football fans, the worst bell, and the worst regional delicacy. Yes. If I wanted Cheez Whiz on my steak sandwich, I'd eat at Kiddie Cafeteria, the restaurant run by six-year-olds."
Oliver also discussed Philly's own Harambee Institute, noting that "they named it a long time ago" and "it's spelled differently" from ill-fated gorilla Harambe's name. This Harambee, you may remember, was discovered to have been home to Club Damani, a raucous bar and dance club that took place at the building after school hours.
The club antics stopped in 2010, with the school taking in some $5 million in taxpayer money in the process, Oliver said Sunday. Former chief executive Masai Skief later pleaded guilty to embezzling $88,000 from the school.
Harambee, however, is far from Philadelphia's only charter school problem.
"In Philadelphia alone, at least 10 administrators or top executives have plead guilty in the past decade to charges like fraud, misusing funds, and obstruction of justice," Oliver said. He added that the problem is so bad that Philadelphia magazine, in a September 2015 issue, recommended that parents "don't forget to Google any schools you're looking at, to make sure they weren't once unexpectedly shut down or run by a CEO who pleaded guilty to theft."
Additionally, as the Inquirer's Caitlin McCabe reported last week, administration costs at charter schools are about double those of public schools. Still, Oliver did note that he was "not sure" Pennsylvania deserves to be called the worst when it comes to charter schools. Ohio's charter law, he said, was "for decades so lax, even charter advocates have called it the 'Wild West.' "
"The problem with letting the free market decide when it comes to kids is that kids change faster than the market," Oliver concluded on Sunday. "And by the time it's obvious the school is failing, futures may have been ruined."
Following Sunday's episode, the show entered a short period of downtime. Last Week Tonight returns to HBO on Sunday, Sept. 25.