Pennsylvania School Board Association

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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Pennsylvania Ranks #1 . . . but don’t know that residents want this distinction!

Sometimes it’s good to be #1  – to be at the ‘top of the class’, but I don’t know that the following  is a distinction that will excite us.  A report from the Pennsylvania School Board Association (PSBA) that was just released lists Pennsylvania as the national leader in public school teacher strikes for the 2009-10 school year – 6 strikes over the 501 school districts.

For those that are interested, these are the six districts in Pennsylvania where strikes occurred during the 2009-10 school year:

  • South Butler, strike from September 21 – October 6
  • Saucon Valley, strike from October 14 – October 30
  • Lackawanna, strike from October 29 – November 2
  •  Penn Hills, strike from February 2 – February 9
  • McGuffey, strike from March 22 – March 23
  • North Penn, strike April 19 – 27

To give you a comparison,  Ohio had no strikes with 612 school districts during last year’s school year.  Pennsylvania is one of 13 states in the country which legalizes strike by state employees, including public school teachers. 

There’s a state representative Paul Clymer (R – Bucks) who is the minority chair of the House Education Committee who has decided that to make it his priority to outlaw teacher strikes in Pennsylvania.  There are currently 2 House Bills and a House Resolution that would either ban teacher strikes in Pennsylvania or further restrict them.  State Rep Daryl Metcalfe (R – Butler) introduced HB 2092 which would amend the Pennsylvania Constitution to prohibit teacher strikes and lockouts.  HB 1334 introduced by State Rep Doug Reichley (R – Berks) would not ban all strikes by teachers by would require more arbitration and fact-finding.

Rep.Clymer is arguing that the Commonwealth needs to stop teachers’ strikes in a tough economic year because Pennsylvanians cannot continue to pay the real estate taxes of previous years.  “Taxpayers are really hard pressed to pay any increase in real estate taxes and we have to find different avenues to balance school budgets,” Mr. Clymer said. “When the teacher contracts become too onerous financially, too much of a burden for the taxpayers we have some serious problems. I’m sure the school boards do their best to come up with equity in the contract [but] everyone has to cut back, government included.”  The Democrat majority chair of House Education did not respond to Clymer’s remarks.

 Do we think that Paul Drucker and Warren Kampf would come down on party lines on this discussion?  Would Kampf side with some of the outspoken Republicans who want to ban public school teacher strikes?  And Drucker . . .  would he support the right of  state employees to strike?  Interesting question.

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