Continuing Tuition Voucher Discussion . . . What’s the next step for SB1?

Continuing the discussion of the tuition voucher program, a Community Matters asked for a list of the 144 low-performing schools cited in the proposed SB1 legislation. The plan would allow the parents of a needy child to take the state subsidy that would have been directed to their home school district and apply it to the public, private or parochial school of their choice.  For the Harrisburg School District, for example, that amount would equal approx. $9,000/yr.  Here is a link to the schools; listed in the order of performance, #1 is the lowest performing school.

The five lowest-performing schools in Pennsylvania are:

#1:  Learning Academy North, Philadelphia City School District (0.00)
#2:  University City High School, Philadelphia City School District (5.12)
#3:  Washington Education Center, Ephrata Area School District ((7.69)
#4:  West Philadelphia High School, Philadelphia City High School (9.64)
#5:  Simon Gratz High School, Philadelphia City High School (10.54)

The number in parenthesis following the school represents the combined reading and math proficiency level in percentages. There is no other explanation but I read this to mean that Simon Gratz HS averages 10.54% of students performing at the required reading/math level.  Assuming that the ‘0.00’ attributed to Learning Academy North is not a misprint, and if I understand the statistic correctly, it would seem as though no students at this school are effectively performing at the required reading/math level.  Could this be possible? It would seem unbelievable . . .  where is the accountability?

I decided to see if I could find any information about Learning Academy North, the lowest-performing school in Pennsylvania. It is a new school, only opened its doors 4 years ago.  The district-run high school is small with only approximately 100 students and is a “nurturing alternative for expelled students” according to one article I read.  Learning Academy North is located on N. Front St., in Philadelphia and is listed as one of the eight ‘Philadelphia Accelerated Schools’ (thought that an interesting category,  given it’s english/math proficiency level).  These specific schools offer full-time academic programs, for students, ages 16-21, who have earned fewer than 8 high school credits and who wish to return to school.

The school accommodates students who have been expelled from the District or are waiting for their expulsion hearing.  Students at Learning Academy North can earn an official Student District diploma. In theory, this type of school looks like a good alternative for the older, returning students. However, based on the performance level, that does not appear to the case.

The Pennsylvania School Board Association (PSBA) is mounting a major anti-voucher campaign to oppose any tuition voucher plan and is asking public school officials to join the effort by contact their legislators.  No doubt caving to public requests, the PSBA has now added the survey charts from Opinion Research to their website.  The summary presents the findings of a survey of 805 Pennsylvania adults conducted Aug. 25 – Sept. 24, 2010.  Ten questions were asked in the survey (click here for survey questions and responses).

The Berks-Mont newspaper (www.berksmontnews.com) reviewed the survey and offered the following observations on January 31:

  • About two out of three Pennsylvanians (67%) oppose giving public money to parents so they can send their children to a private school. Only a small minority (13.7%) of Pennsylvanians strongly favor taxpayer-funded tuition vouchers. Most older Pennsylvanians, aged 55 or older, oppose taxpayer-funded tuition vouchers and, in fact, 51% strongly oppose them. Over 70% of individuals surveyed under the age of 34, strongly or somewhat oppose tuition vouchers, more so than any other respondent age group.
  •  For respondents declaring a political affiliation, a majority of both Democrats and Republicans indicate opposition to taxpayer-funded tuition vouchers. Democrats more so than Republicans, however, oppose taxpayer-funded tuition vouchers 69% to 58%, respectively. Independents also do not embrace tuition vouchers with 68% of them indicating that they either somewhat or strongly oppose them.
  • Regardless of zip code, opposition to tuition vouchers is universally held across all Pennsylvania regions. More than two-thirds of Pennsylvanians oppose tuition vouchers in all areas of the state except in the northeast (61% oppose tuition vouchers) and the southwest (64% oppose tuition vouchers).
  •  Strong opposition to tuition vouchers is almost equally shared by whites and non-whites alike. More than two-thirds (69%) of non-white individuals indicated that they somewhat or strongly oppose taxpayer-funded tuition vouchers. This is slightly more than whites where 66% said the same. Only 10% of non-white respondents said they strongly favor taxpayer-funded tuition vouchers.
  • Two-thirds of Pennsylvanians (66%) oppose state law that requires school districts to pay the tuition of students attending privately operated charter and cyber charter schools. Like the issue of vouchers, Pennsylvanians hold very strong opinions on charter school tuition. Respondents holding opinions of strong opposition against charter tuition payment by school districts (44%) is almost four times greater than those strongly favoring tuition payments to charters by districts (11%).

The PSBA conducted a call-in program on Feb. 3 about taxpayer-funded tuition vouchers.  Click here for the  link to the 47 PowerPoint slides that were used during the call to PSBA members.

What is the next step for the tuition voucher plan . . . proposed SB1 legislation will be subject of a public hearing in the Senate Education Committee on Feb. 16.  PSBA will present testimony at that meeting.  Gov. Corbett’s budget proposal on March 8 will probably include the voucher plan. Following the budget address, the General Assembly will recess for a few weeks in order for the Appropriations Committees in the Senate and House to hold hearings and discuss various components of Corbett’s budget.  The voucher bill will not move until mid to late spring.

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10 Comments

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  1. I can understand why opponents have accused the PSBA of “misusing data to support their arguments.”

    There are just 2 questions in the PSBA survey.

    1. Would you favor or oppose giving public money to parents so they can send their children to a private school of their own choosing instead of to their local public school?

    2. Do you favor or oppose the state mandate that requires school districts to pay the tuition of students who attending [sic] privately-operated charter and cyber charter schools?

    In today’s economic environment the foremost issue is, “What will it do to my taxes?” Unfortunately, the effect on taxes is left ambiguous in both survey questions above. I’d estimate that many of the respondents assumed their taxes would be raised to fund the voucher program rather than the actual tax neutral transfer of funds from the public schools to private schools.

    I think the results would be quite different depending which question below was used.

    A. Would you favor or oppose RAISING TAXES so parents can use vouchers to send their children to a private school of their own choosing instead of to their local public school?

    B. Would you favor or oppose a voucher program (no tax increase) so parents can send their children to a private school of their own choosing rather than to an under-performing public school?

    [Reply]

    Constitutional Reply:

    What would the results be if you asked taxpayers whether they would favor their tax dollars funding private religious schools that teach religious ideas with which the taxpayer may profoundly disagree?

    If you asked whether they favor the full per-student budget following the student to a privavte, for-profit charter school, when the business owners running that school do not have to meet the same requirements as a public school and therefore do not have anywhere near the same costs? How would the taxpayers feel, for example, in the case of a “cyber” charter school, which does not even have to provide classrooms or other brick-and-mortar facilities, resulting in a huge windfall profit to the charter school’s owners?

    What if you asked them whether they still favor vouchers and charters if there is no accountability to demonstrate equal or better educational outcomes for the money spent?

    [Reply]

    citizenone Reply:

    “What would the results be if you asked taxpayers whether they would favor their tax dollars funding private religious schools that teach religious ideas with which the taxpayer may profoundly disagree?”

    The results would be the same if you asked taxpayers whether they would favor their tax dollars paying for bus service to private religious schools. (which we do now)

    “If you asked whether they favor the full per-student budget following the student to a private, for-profit charter school, when the business owners running that school do not have to meet the same requirements as a public school and therefore do not have anywhere near the same costs?”

    I’d congratulate the business owners on a well-deserved profit and hope the legislature would remove the unnecessary public school requirements like tenure, prevailing wage, right to strike that increase costs without commensurate benefit. I’m not sure how to handle the cyber school windfall, but I bet we could figure it out in 30 minutes. While I fully support the government funding education for our children, I think the government should get out of the business of delivering education.

    “What if you asked them whether they still favor vouchers and charters if there is no accountability to demonstrate equal or better educational outcomes for the money spent?”

    Parents are free to vote with their feet at a moments notice if their child’s needs are not being met. That’s real accountability.

    [Reply]

    Constitutional Reply:

    So, to be clear, you don’t have a problem with private businesses making a windfall profit at the expense of taxpayers? You don’t think the government should even be in the business of education? You don’t believe in public schools at all?

    You think providing busing to private shcools is equivalent to taxpayers subsidizing tuition for private religious schools? It may be a matter of degree, but I submit there is a huge difference, one that matters to a lot of us out here.

    Your first comment (above) seems to imply that it is all about whether charters or vouchers increase taxes, as if anyone who understands that they will not result in a tax increase (assuming that is accurate) must be fine with them.

    Well, the opposition is about much more than that. It has to do with a belief in, and a committment to, quality public shcools. Despite decades of attacks from people with a certain political agenda, the pro-public school sentiment still prevails as a force to be reconed with. Between that committment, and the numerous practical problems presented by vouchers and charters as well (none of which can be fixed in 30 minutes), the privatization movement faces insurmountable obstacles. That is without even getting into the fact that vouchers are probably unconsitituional in Pennsylvania.

    Again, the children and taxpayers would be better served by a legislature that truly works to improve all public schools rather than waste time on vouchers.

    flyersfan Reply:

    On the college level, government funding of college education has directly led to an increase in the cost of tuition.

    citizenone Reply:

    There are lots of questions from Constitution, maybe rhetorical.

    Constitution asked, “So, to be clear, you don’t have a problem with private businesses making a windfall profit at the expense of taxpayers?” I’d rather private businesses didn’t make WINDFALL profits, but profits are what drives a free market economy. If you want to eliminate windfall profits and eliminate inefficiencies I suggest we abolish the monopoly that pubic schools now enjoy.

    Constitution asked, “You don’t think the government should even be in the business of education?” I’m not sure if there is no role for the government in education. Maybe there is a limited role for government just as there is a limited role for the postal service to deliver [mostly junk] mail. Do you begrudge the profits made by the shareholders of FedEx or UPS? Would things improve if we gave the USPS a monopoly on the delivery of all packages?

    Constitution asked, “You don’t believe in public schools at all?” I like the mix of private and public institutions of higher education. Somehow, we in the US have an enviable college education system without resort to a government monopoly.

    Constitution said, “Again, the children and taxpayers would be better served by a legislature that truly works to improve all public schools rather than waste time on vouchers.” If you want something to run inefficiently and ineffectively while stifling innovation ask a politician to get involved.

    I’ll close with a quote from the Nobel prize winning economist Milton Friedman.

    There are four ways in which you can spend money. You can spend your own money on yourself. When you do that, why then you really watch out what you’re doing, and you try to get the most for your money. Then you can spend your own money on somebody else. For example, I buy a birthday present for someone. Well, then I’m not so careful about the content of the present, but I’m very careful about the cost. Then, I can spend somebody else’s money on myself. And if I spend somebody else’s money on myself, then I’m sure going to have a good lunch! Finally, I can spend somebody else’s money on somebody else. And if I spend somebody else’s money on somebody else, I’m not concerned about how much it is, and I’m not concerned about what I get. And that’s government. [the public school system]

  2. NO VOUCHERS!!!

    According to the Pa Dept of Education approximately 72% of students attending the Philadelphia City School District come from low-income families in which the household income does not exceed 130% of the federal poverty line.

    Let’s see that’s 72% of Philadelphia’s 184,000 students. A total of 132,480 qualify for vouchers. Each student gets a $9000. Right now the Philadelphia School District spends about $7000 per student. With a voucher system… we’re going to pay $2000 more per student. That would be an additional expense of $1,192,320,000 on top of the cost of educating and maintaining the 28% of students who remain in public school.

    Vouchers would basically do away with the Public School Systems in Philadelphia. Students would be educated privately, yet these private businesses would be supported by tax payer dollars. But at the same time these private schools would not held accountable to the public. And where are the private schools that are going enroll 132,000 of Philadelphia’s kids?

    If you want to spend an additional $864,360,000, do it to improve Philadelphia Schools for all students!!!!

    [Reply]

    citizenone Reply:

    C’mon Anon.

    Your $7,000 per year figure is wrong.

    Here are the numbers for Phiadelphia.

    “The Philadelphia School District’s May 2009 budget proposed total spending of $3.186 billion to educate 193,536 students—an average of $16,462 per student.”

    [Reply]

    flyersfan Reply:

    anon, money isn’t the issue in most of Philadelphia schools.
    Just pour more and more in and wha la…. utopia.

    [Reply]

  3. Perhaps we are all getting an understanding of why the problem persists with only solutions proposed, never enacted.
    Very few of the people in Harrisburg that debate and conclude on educational issues have any real world experience….it’s one of the flaws in the political apppointees….hopefully John P is correct and that part of the purpose of this proposition is to soften the strength of the PSEA…but until and unless the negotiating tools change, the PSEA will control the agenda. Spend a few minutes reading this website. You don’t have to agree with the premise, but it will certainly bring many of us up to speed on where things stand now. http://www.stopteacherstrikes.org/

    [Reply]

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