Pattye Benson

Community Matters

Is Pennsylvania Ready for a School Voucher Plan? Would you use school vouchers for your kids if you could?

Is Pennsylvania Ready for a School Voucher Plan? Would you use school vouchers for your kids if you could?

I wonder if the school voucher discussion is going to threaten the position of teacher unions, especially during contract negotiations. Gov. Tom Corbett is planning to make good on his campaign promise to move forward toward school vouchers for Pennsylvania parents. Contained in his inaugural address were the words, “Our education system must contend with other nations and so we must embrace innovation, competition, and choice in our education system.” Corbett issued a commitment to a voucher program, stating “Today’s Pennsylvania’s tradition of character and courage carries on in the single mother who works an extra job so she can send her children to a better school.”

However, pushing a school voucher program is not strictly a Republican initiative. Senators Anthony Williams, a Philadelphia Democrat and Republican Jeffrey Piccola from Daphin County have co-sponsored legislation that would give state money to poor students who want to transfer to a private school or another public school. In its current design, the Senate Bill 1 initially will only affect the 144 poorest-performing Pennsylvania schools. (101 of the schools are located in either Philadelphia or Delaware counties.) After two years, the program would expand to include all low-income students in the state. In the current budget year, the state is spending more than $9 billion on education, with more than $5.1 billion on basic education alone. This year the state is spending more than $14,000 per student in the public school system, though the amount per student fluctuates from district to district.

Sen. Williams believes that school choice is a civil rights issue. In a statement accompanying the introduction of the voucher bill, he states “Standing in the way of school choice for needy kids is like Gov. George Wallace standing in the doorway of a classroom to continue to the segregation of the ’60s. Why would we block access to great schools for children in need? … Let’s open the doors to freedom and opportunity.”

Not surprising, the powerful state teacher unions and their supporters are not fans of a school voucher plan, claiming that this type of legislation amounts to abandonment of public school education. Can one argue that this type of school voucher plan actually removes financial support from the public school that need more support rather than less? Teacher unions worry about accountability for private and religious schools, which are not held to the same governance standard as public schools. What happens if school choice passes and a student leaves a failing school and does not improve at a charter or private school? Whose fault is it then?

Former Gov. Tom Ridge failed with his school choice initiative in the 1990s. Is there significant change in the political climate in 2011 to support a voucher initiative? If Philadelphia is any indicator, there seems to be a movement among parents in big cities wanting better (and safer) schools for their children. Historically, there has been support for unions in the big cities, but parents are tired of waiting for the public schools to improve. To succeed, Corbett and his legislative supporters will need to balance the interests of urban parents who want better schools for their children with the suburban parents (like those in the T/E school district) who believe that public school may not need to change.

I support the right of all children to attend ‘safe’ schools but as we know from news reports, that is not always possible in Philadelphia. Is a school voucher plan the only option for parents to keep their children safe from violence, gangs, drugs in some of Philadelphia’s inner city schools? Unsafe public school must change, but how?

Does anyone share my uneasiness that a school voucher program may potentially violate Article III, the separation of church and state, contained in the state’s constitution? A voucher system cannot regulate where the money goes . . . I would think that using state tax money for religious schools would violate the constitution.

Would you use school vouchers for your kids if you could? I’m curious to hear what others think about a school voucher plan. Do you think that the school voucher discussion is going to affect the teacher contract negotiations, one way or the other?

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  1. I think this brings up some interesting thoughts.

    First, I agree with you that this could potentially violate church and state standards and I would like to see how Harrisburg would address that issue.

    Secondly, if private/religious schools are not held to the same standards as public schools then how do we call them a success? If we are measuring by two different standards it seems disingenuous to praise them.

    Third, I do believe in poor performing schools it would put pressure on schools to do better but, would this hurt good schools like T/E?

    i would be curious to see where this all goes and how Corbett and the legislature handle it.

  2. I believe in the separation of church and state. Vouchers would violate this principle because many private schools are parochial/religious schools. So a state-wide voucher system would be a means for our more fundamental/Conservative citizens to circumvent Constitutional prohibitions against subsidizing religious practices and instruction.

    If school vouchers become the norm, our most at-risk students will be even more at risk as limited public funds are drained off and redirected to unregulated, non-standardized factories of learning. These factories will turn out a few well-trained, socially and economically elite young men and women who have been programmed not to think, but to behave and vote the way they are told. The rest of our kids, sadly, will have been left behind.

    There needs to be another option to make ALL schools safe – all children deserve a safe place to learn.

    1. “These factories will turn out a few well-trained, socially and economically elite young men and women who have been programmed not to think, but to behave and vote the way they are told.”

      Of all the arguments against school vouchers, this takes the prize as the most amusing. I’m not sure if you were laughing when you wrote it, but I was laughing when I read it!

    2. Wow! So private schools do nothing but brainwash you and program you. Lol. Holy smokes. Either you are a conspiracy theorist nutjob, or have something to lose (TESD employee, not just taxpayer). Wow…..

  3. This has been on the table for 20 years….”No Child Left Behind” was the opening salvo….the hope with vouchers is that they will allow kids to fix their own education….for families that are economically locked into a district/community that doesn’t have or invest the resources into schools.

    In upwardly mobile communities, people write checks. They go to local independent, parochial and now charter schools. Or they pay taxes in a community like ours to support public schools. Kids in poor districts who want better opportunities are economically held prisoner. And vouchers are meant to fix that one student at a time.

    The problem is so big, vouchers may be offensive, but here in TE we are debating whether or not we want to fund schools at the level we are used to….but the people in our community will not sink if we drop German in 7th grade.

    There have always been concerns that it violates the constitution — but it would take a callous law suit (many have failed, some have succeeded) to stop it — and denying federal funding to places like Notre Dame and Georgetown…..

    TESD Taxpayer has made some assumptions that any alternatives will be factories of learning. Doesn’t that mean that we are all prisoners of state and federal funding? At risk kids cannot change where they live….but with vouchers, may be able to change where they go to school. I don’t like the idea but I think it deserves analysis and not fear. We have got to find a way to support KIDS who want to learn, regardless of their address.

  4. To “Give it a rest” –

    I have to ask about your comment that “there are concerns that (vouchers) would violate the constitution…but it would take a callous law suit….to stop it”.

    You would really consider a lawsuit to determine whether or not such a monumental change in the way we fund schools to be “callous”?

    I’d say that given the potential of using public funds to support religious-based schools, the courts are the only place that the issue can be decided. Why is that callous? – I’d say it is our government (and constitution) in action.

    1. I say callous because state and federal funds already go to religious schools (our local schools provide transportation, books, nurses, special services to local parochial schools), so it would be grandstanding to pretend that the purpose of vouchers would be to redirect money to religious institutions.

      Citizen One above is correct in pointing out that only the poverty statistics would enable a child to qualify for a voucher. So again — callous because someone would be watching their pocketbook at the expense of someone who could never fight back.

      But indeed — that would be our government and our constitution in action — which to me is why there is so little acccomplished in government — too many lawsuits, too many lawyers, and not enough action.

      Kids are only in school for 12 years….how many years do we want to hold up programs until the economy recovers….because even in a place like TE, change it for tomorrow and it will be a generation of school kids before it comes back, if it ever does.

  5. The Pennsylvania School Board Association’s Action Alert has commented on their website re SB1 school voucher bill with the following remarks:

    Tuition voucher issue heats up
    As expected, the debate over tuition vouchers, in the form of SB 1, has begun to heat up. Advocates of the bill have taken to name-calling and accusing PSBA of misusing data to support their arguments.

    PSBA would like to urge its members not to engage in such tactics. Our every word and every action are being closely monitored by tuition voucher advocates, who are looking for anything they can use to paint us in an unfavorable light. We urge you to stay above the fray and stick to the points, which remain the same:

    1. Private and parochial schools are not publicly accountable. Therefore the public, whose tax dollars are being used to fund tuition vouchers, will have no way to know if their funds are being invested wisely. SB 1 does not include any means of accountability for voucher students attending a private or parochial school.

    2. SB 1 does not contain a provision requiring private or parochial schools to take a tuition voucher student so the major premise of the bill – that it will provide parents a choice – is misleading. It is the schools that will make the choice – not the parents.

    3. According to a recent public opinion poll, most Pennsylvanians oppose giving public tax money to parents so they can send their children to a private school. Two out of three Pennsylvanians oppose giving public money to parents so they can send their children to a private school. Most older Pennsylvanians, aged 55 or older, oppose taxpayer-funded school vouchers and, in fact, 51% strongly oppose them. Over 70% of individuals surveyed under the age of 34, strongly or somewhat oppose school vouchers, more so than any other respondent age group.

    1. I’m surprised at the arguments the Pennsylvania School Boards Association uses to justify their opposition.

      PSBA says, “Private and parochial schools are not publicly accountable.” Of course they are held accountable. The thousands of parents sending their kids to private schools in our district can vote with their feet at any instant. That’s real accountability.

      PSBA says, “the major premise of the bill – that it will provide parents a choice – is misleading.” Yes, there has to be room at a private school before a parent can use a voucher, but at least parents with a kid currenty locked into a failing school has a better chance to escape than before. And, if there is no choice then why is PSBA so opposed to vouchers?

      PSBA says, “most Pennsylvanians oppose giving public tax money to parents so they can send their children to a private school.” I’m going to obtain a copy of the questions and publish it here so we can assess the validity of the results. Further, we have to realize that vouchers only go to those families below 130% of the poverty level and the voucher is only for the state portion of education funding. I’m wondering if the opinion research survey led respondents to believe that they would be taxed to provide every private school student, regardless of parental income, with full tuition.

      1. citizenone —
        I’d like to see that opinion poll questions/responses.

        As a TESD resident who choose to send their child to private school, I take issue with a claim that private schools are not as ‘publicaly accountable’. Maybe I should re-state, I only have experience with the level of education at one private school, the Baldwin School. The education our daughter received during her 12 years was of the highest level, and certainly would have surpassed any public accountability litmus test. Again, I cannot speak to other private schools. but I have to believe that others who choose to send their children to private school (and pay the very expensive tuition bill), expect (and would demand) the highest level of education. Otherwise, what is the point? Maybe there are other reasons that people choose private school education, but for my husband and I, the decision was based on the ‘quality’ of the education.

        1. Independent schools are not publically accountable, but they are, as Citizen One says, highly accountable to their constituency. People choose to send their children to independent schools for a myriad of reasons — and not all independent schools are meant to serve the “best and brightest.”

          Sometimes there is the sense that people choose private over public schools for a better education. That’s where some get defensive. You go to a private school because you choose to, for whatever reason. People unhappy with one go to the other…and vice versa. Vouchers are about communities where they are looking for a good education….and do not have the local resources (regardless of how much comes from the state/fed gov) to provide opportunity for a child who wants it.

      2. The point regarding lack of choice is much more than the question of whether a private school has room – they don’t have to take you, period.

        Also, as a practical matter, lack of transportation is a real impediment to most students in poor urban areas. The choice supposedly granted by voucher proposals has always been illusory.

        Regarding public accountability, private schools are for the most part NOT subject to the same standards and regulations as public schools. One result is that public taxpayer money could be partially funding religious institutions that violate public policy in a number of ways, including (at the most egregious) violation of anti-discrimination laws.

        Private institutions, particularly religious ones, are allowed to discriminate in ways that public schools are not. Many taxpayers will rightly object to their money being used to subsidize such beliefs.

        In summary, vouchers are a simplistic band-aid solution to a very complicated problem. Instead of debating vouchers, the legislature should try to improve all public schools for all children.

        1. Kevin, could not agree more — “the legislature should try to improve all public schools for all children”. For some parents living with the low-performing schools, especially those that also ‘unsafe’ . . . the question is, ‘when’ are the schools going to improve? All children have the right to feel safe in their schools.

        2. I think the legislature has limited power to improve schools for all children. Government fiat and money seem to be only part of the solution.. Parent and student accountability are others. But this then becomes an economic and cultural issue as well. It is complex. And oh yes don’t forget the teachers and their union.

          If legislatures create an environment where there is a chance for economic growth and prosperity then that can trickle down to the education system. But blatant throwing of more money at schools doesn’t always work, obviously.

  6. Separation of church and state as originally intended by the framers of the Constitution had nothing to do with things like this. It had to do with the state (meaning government) not choosing one religion over another (as England had.) Separation was a direct response to the religious freedoms NOT supplied by the country from which we were declaring our independence.

    The separation argument is a long-time red herring utilized by those who do not support vouchers. It is a shame, really, because there are legitimate arguments/concerns on both sides of the vouchers issue upon which any discussion should focus.

    1. From the West is correct! Church & government history ought to be taught! Before Europeans landed here they were living in a situation where if you were a resident of a city you were a member of the church…PERIOD. Therefore, if you didn’t show up in church you could be fined or, worse, imprisoned. There was no choice. Our founding fathers and mothers were wanting a different approach to society. Seperation of church & state has NOTHING to do with what it has become.

      1. The history of the separation of Church and State is quite complex and cannot be reduced to the simplistic analysis provided by “Providence”. It is, and always has been, about much more than simply not being forced to become a member of an official state sponsored church. The courts have, for 200 years, refused to take such a narrow view of the matter.

        The concept comes from the First Amendment to the Constitution. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . . . .” There are two clauses, the “Establishment Clause” and the “Free Exercise Clause”. “Providence” addresses only the Establishement Clause. The Free Exercise Clause is more subtle and far reaching. The right to practice the religion of your choice inherently includes the right not to be foreced to paractice a religion with which you do not agree.

        When you take public taxpayer money and use it to fund students in religious schools, you have very likely violated the Establishment Clause, if not the Free Exercise Clause. I doubt the Founding Fathers would take kindly to being told that they would be taxed and some of that money would be used to fund religious schools which teach values and beliefs with which they may profoundly disagree. More to the point, I think they would see this as a clear violation of the Establishment Clause, and possibly the Free Exercise Clause as well.

        While there certainly are many fine churches which run schools, ones that would be unobjectionable to the average person, that does not remove the constitutional problem. One does not have to look far to find religious institutions which subtly or blatantly promote racism, homophobia, misogeny, or anti-semitism. Many citizens object to being forced by the government to promote, even indirectly, such views. That is tantamount to being forced by the governement to support a particular religion.

        1. I appreciate your thoughtful response Constitutional. I beg your forgiveness for a “reduced to the simplistic analysis” …just didn’t have the same passion to write out such a detailed reflection.

        2. But the question remains: how does allowing a parent to send their child to a religious school of their choosing amount to “establishment” of a religion or affect the parents right to “free exercise” of their religion? That would be the case if you were forcing parents into a religious school program.

          It seems that radical secularism is just a much of a religion as any of the others. The devoutly secular and atheist tend to be just as evangelical about their beliefs as most organized religions. Have we denied people their “free exercise” rights by saying unless you are very wealth you must subject your children to an educational system which advocates secularism and is somewhat hostile to people of faith?

        3. You must have a legal background, so perhaps you can explain why the notion of vouchers going to kids and being used in a religious school are different than those same schools getting tax dollar support for books, transportation, special services, nurses etc. And how universities that are predominantly religious get federal dollars for research etc. Somehow I think Providence has a better grasp of the intention, if not the subsequent interpretations and court-mandated expansion of the initial constitutional intent — to keep the state OUT of religion, not to keep religion OUT of the state.

        4. In “reply” to all of you who replied to my comment above – here is a bit more for what it is worth (although you all “Give it a Rest”, “Panhandle Moderate” and “Providence” make some good points)

          The Supreme Court Jurisprudence in this area is confusing, I’ll grant you that. It is done on a case-by-case basis, and some things are allowed while others are not. It is very fact specific to each case presented.

          The standards currently used to evaluate such questions can be found in Everson v. Board of Education (1947) and refined in Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971). “The test may be stated as follows: what are the purpose and primary effect of the enactment? If either is the advancement or inhibition of religion then the enacment exceeds the scope of legislative power as circumscribed by the Constitution. That is to say that that to withstand the strictures of the Establishment Clause there must be a secular legislative purpose and primary effect that neither advances nor prohibits religion.” The Court also considers whether the governmental program results in “an excessive government entanglement with religion. The test is inescapably one of degree . . . . the questions are whether the involvement is excessive, and whether it is a continuing one calling for official and continuing surveillance leading to an impermissible degree of entanglement.”

          In other words, a legitimate legislative purpose and effect that does not either promote or inhibit religion, and no excessive entanglement of goverment in religion. An incidental benefit to a religious institution may be permissible (again – very fact specific) if the primary purpose and result of the goverment program is secular.

          Now, there is a 2002 Supreme Court case upholding a school voucher program. It is Zelman v. Simmons-Harris. The key was that parents chose what school to apply to, and so their choice of a religious school was not felt to imply a government endorsement of religion according to the Zelman majority. It was a 5-4 decision and left many questions unresolved. Among them was whether provisions in state constitutions which prohibit public money from being used for religious purposes were constitutional. In Locke v. Davey (2004) the Supreme court addressed this question. The Washington state contitution contained such a prohibition. The plaintiff was denied a state funded scholarship because he wanted to use it to get a degree in Theology. The Supreme Court upheld the prohibition in the Washington state constitution, holding that it did not violate the US Constitution.

          This could be fatal for the Pennsylvania voucher program. The PA Constitution in Article III., Section 15, specifically states that public education money cannot be used to fund sectarian schools. A challenge in PA state court would likely be successful, and would strike down the voucher scheme. If appealed to Federal courts, under the precedent of Locke v. Davey, the state court ruling striking down the voucher program would be upheld.

          Does not look good for vouchers in Pennsylvania . . . .

      2. “Constitutional” that is great info! What would you think about a school millage tax credit? Given that the average parent’s school real estate tax bill is insufficient to cover the cost of educating one child let alone more than one. It seems that if a parent elects to send their children to a private school they should be given some credit for reducing the total cost of tax payer funded education.

        This obviously would be bad for the TESD as a significant number of children in the district are actually being educated in private schools while their parents’ property taxes go to subsidize the education of other children. As a parent of public school kids and a person who is cheap I would not like to see such a program, but it does seem more equitable.

        1. I don’t think you could do a millage discount. The PA Constitution has a clause requiring equal taxation.

        2. No discounts or there would be one for seniors….but again, your property tax does not “subsidize” the education of other children. It supports the mandate of providing education to all children. Sending your child to an independent school does not relieve the public school of educating your child. There are countless kids in our district that started in an independent school and were sent back….presumably because the other parents writing checks did not want their excellent education tainted by lesser abled kids. It’s often about special needs, so the returning student requires a greater expense. Your house is worth what it’s worth because it’s in a community that provides an excellent education. Your property tax is insurance against that not being true.

  7. It’s interesting that now religion seems pretty much completely absent from UK politics (apart from ceremony), while in the US the two are completely intertwined.

    Vouchers definitely represent a way for motivated parents to get a better education for their average or above children. Those that remain in the public system will by definition have fewer resources, less parental involvement and lower capabilities – and will perform worse.

    Is that an acceptable price to pay? Will it in fact lead to systemic changes that benefit all?

    I have my doubts. Schools reflect their communities. I’d rather see concerted action on all economic, social and educational fronts rather than further stratification that allows charter school entrepreneurs to game public funding mechanisms and get rich at the expense of those in society that can least afford it.

  8. The proposed plan would help the neediest students in our state. These students attend failing schools and do not have the money to opt-out by moving to a better school district or by attending a private school.

    I would object to taxpayer dollars being used to subsidize private schools for residents of a top district such as T/E, Radnor, Lower Merion, Great Valley because these public schools are providing a high-quality education for children already. But I do have sympathy for the children who are forced to attend failing schools. Why not give them every chance of success?

    It would be better if we could truly reform the public school system to improve failing schools, but we need to be realistic. It could take years to truly improve the worst schools in PA. How would you feel if your child were forced to attend one of those schools in the meantime? If we care about closing the gap between the rich and the poor in this country, we need to give poorer students options and a chance for a better education.

    It’s easy for us to object to vouchers on philosophical grounds (separation of church and state, etc), but how would we feel if we were the parent of a child forced to attend a failing school?

    1. I think perhaps every parent of a child in such a school would feel the same way. So, every student should get a voucher and have an alternative. But private schools will refuse to take the disadvantaged, less talented kids. What is then to be done with the vouchers? Spend them on food, maybe, or worse. This is really terrible discrimination and totally ignores the fundamental issues.

      1. Let’s not let the perfect be the enemy of a good. The proposed voucher system may not satisfy the needs of all, but it would be a help for many. Ray, I hope you realize that the proposed vouchers can only be used for education and not for “food, maybe, or worse”.

        Yes, this is “discrimination”. The system targets a small number of failing school and students living in poverty. Sounds fine to me.

        Ray, I’d be interested to know your take on “fundamental issues”.

        1. I’m very conflicted on this. Back in the day I was in a program run by the Inner London (UK) school district that funded a few places at a school for needy kids in the bucolic Sussex countryside. Not sure it was actually better, but it didn’t hurt.

          Differences include the fact that the school is a 550 year old charity, no rich operators funded politicians to set it up (founded by Edward VI!), and it’s adverse impact on the rest of the system is minimal.

          I did see Anthony Williams in today’s paper writing that schools accepting vouchers “would have to develop admissions policies accepting students on a first come, first-served basis”. That’s a really good thing – depending on what “would have to develop” actually means. If the mix of students is academically equivalent to the public school mix I have less of a problem, although it will mean fewer motivated parents to help at the public schools, so performance there will be hurt.

          The fundamental issues are those that create the communities with failing schools in the first place. Lack of jobs, lack of incentives, ineffective social policies, ineffective education and skills training, drug trafficking, corrupt politicians and unions, etc. [See “The Wire”, all seasons].

          Sorry to disappoint, but I don’t have an answer for all that. Redesigning the way that schools are run is clearly a part of the solution, but I’m just not convinced that vouchers are the right start. It’s a real indictment of the system if that’s the only way to get the entrenched interests to change.

  9. A major criticism of vouchers is that private schools control admissions.

    Vouchers certainly will not solve all of the problems of children stuck in failing school districts. For example, it is unlikely that a private school will take a child with learning disabilities or special needs or a child with a history of behavioral problems. However, private schools are a realistic option for many children in these failing schools who have involved parents and a good record at their current school in terms of behavior issues. Vouchers are not perfect, and I do have many problems with them. But I believe we owe it to these needy kids in failing school districts to give at least some of them a potential way out of a bad situation. We cannot keep neglecting this segment of kids and then acting surprised when schools turn into drop-out factories.

    I also wonder if there is some racism involved in objections to vouchers. Many of the schools targeted by the proposed plan are in predominantly minority neighborhoods. Vouchers will enable these students to attend private schools in their region. It will have the result of making these private schools more diverse and more integrated since income barriers will be reduced and children will be judged on their merits and academic talent for admissions.

    It isn’t fair to say that the private schools will discriminate against these students. While this might be likely at elite schools like Baldwin, Haverford, Agnes Irwin, where there is substantial competition for each spot and where admissions officers try to assess how much the average parent is willing to volunteer and/or donate BEYOND the cost of tuition, most of the students with vouchers will be applying for parochial schools in their area.

    Public schools should be the standard for children in our state. But let’s at least give these poor kids a chance to escape their failing schools while the state simultaneously attempts to fix their public schools.

  10. Well said Citizen One.
    For those who say private schools won’t take these kids, they are right. But Parochial schools can and do….which is why the “separation” issue always comes up…. We should all be grateful that many parochial schools step up to the educational challenges that most if not all “independent” schools will not.
    And a voucher wouldn’t touch the $30K tuition at a place like Episcopal….unless the student could dunk or some similar athletic achievement.

    We want these poor schools to improve and we lay it on the state, but then we fight for “local control” and rail against state mandates and complain that the state doesn’t fund communities like ours….can’t have it both ways. The local control is part of what fails schools in economically disadvanaged communities.

    By the way — the independent schools are better able to provide “excellent” educations because they typically ignore due process and often toss kids who struggle back to the public schools (even after having those kids from K to begin with) …ADD, OCD, dyslexia….cya.

  11. I wonder how many of those who support tax dollars (vouchers) for religious schools would accept their use for Islamic-centered schools? Many people are gung-ho for teaching the Christian Bible (and it’s tenents) in schools, but I have a feeling that teaching the Koran would be a different story.

    1. Vouchers exist to provide parents and families options. Why should anyone object if a family chose to send their child to a Muslim school? It’s not like any child would be forced to attend a Muslim school.

      I have mixed opinions on vouchers. I support them in some circumstances because they give some kids a way to escape their failing schools. But i wouldn’t support them for kids in T/E for example.

      Many people try to imply that voucher supporters are behind this bill because it would send kids to parochial schools. Why that may be true of some, I think many of us view this as a social justice issue for poor kids stuck in drop-out factories. Those kids deserve an education too.

      1. It’s not about the GOP…though the DEMS are much more PSEA-friendly. It’s about saving kids, one at a time. Harrisburg doesn’t have the first clue how to fix Philadelphia schools…and while they work on it, it is the hope that vouchers will offer a hand to a kid who is trapped by poverty. They are a terrible idea, but the only one they have.

      2. so then you are in favor of breaking the tide of political influence the PSEA enjoys. Just wanted to make sure I got it right.

        And the Democrats don’t like vouchers because it would weaken their hold on the union, or weaken the union that they have a hold on. So each has their own agenda. And according to this theory there is no discussion about education quality and the kids. Great

      3. I always wondered how that would work. I mean how would the “good” school district accomodate the influx of eager students from lesser districts?

      4. Mr. Petersen says, “Vouchers are not about choice, saving kids or any other thing. They are device to break the union. There is nothing altruistic about them. Seriously…do you really think that it will ever happen – that a bunch of kids from Chester, Philly, Upper Darby, Yeadon, etc – will be arriving, en masse – at Radnor or T/E???”

        First, vouchers will help some, possibly many, kids. Second, the voucher program never envisioned a transfer of low socioeconomic status kids into Radnor or TE. Third, I’m unconcerned whether the politicians’ major aim is helping kids or reducing union influence. Both are worthy aims.

        Let’s take the example of a student wanting to enroll in the Phila private school of City Center Academy. Tuition is $6,900 per year. Without the voucher program the family must either come up with the money themselves or apply for financial aid. With the voucher program the funds from the Phila school district cover the full cost of tuition. I’m guessing most people from TE are not familiar with the dynamics of education in cities and are comfortable with the current educational monopoly in TE. Let’s revisit this topic when the TEEA is on strike in 18 months.

  12. I have enjoyed reading everyone’s comments but find myself agreeing strongly with Kevin Grewell and Ray Clarke’s remarks.

    Yes, vouchers are a band-aid solution to a a complex,systemic problem. Ray touches on why : the worst schools are in communites with few resources and many impediments to safe,well-run schools and stable families that support their kids’ learning . Logically, any genuine solutions should address the causes.

    While some students will no doubt be helped by vouchers, what will happen to the unfortunate students left behind in failing schools? They can’t all find alternative placements with vouchers. And how will those already struggling public schools function with fewer resources? Vouchers create winners and losers when the mandate of the public schools is to provide a good education for every child.

    I have been inspired by a community-based public school program run by a nationally acclaimed educator, Jeffrey Canada, It successfully serves tens of thousands of kids in Harlem through rigorous programs , high expectations for parents and kids, and a core belief that success is not an option. So far it has produced tremendous results.

    This program and others like it should be the focus of educational reforms. Not sending educationally challenged kids out of their communities to attend private schools, taking their public funding with them.

    And isn’t anyone a little uncomfortable that many of the most ardent supporters of vouchers are also supporters of religiously affiliated schools? BTW, no anti-Catholic charges, please. I attended a fine Catholic high school and support the option of a religious education – just not using funds meant for public education.

    1. I’d like to address the issue that Kate raises about “how will those already struggling public schools function with fewer resources?”

      I’m going to use Lancaster School District as an example. The LSD spends about $15.5K per student of which $7K is state funding, $2K is federal funding and $6.5K is local funding. Let’s suppose the a student chooses the voucher program. The private school gets the state portion of $7K. I’ll assume that neither the LSD nor the private school get the federal portion of $2K. The LSD retains the $6.5K local portion – WITHOUT HAVING TO EDUCATE THE STUDENT. Why would the LSD complain? They have more money to spend for each remaining student. The only “losers” are the furloughed teacher(s) and the PSEA.

      I’m also intrigued by Kate’s praise of the Harlem Children’s Zone charter schools, but dislike for vouchers. I like the HCZ concept, but we also have to realize that when kids attend these schools they take “their public funding with them.”

      As an aside – I have asked the PSBA for the questions and/or script used for their voucher survey. I have not yet received the requested information although it was promised.

  13. Vouchers are for kids — it’s only religious schools that are cheap enough alternatives that they would make a dent in the cost. And it’t not even religious schools — it’s neighborhood parochial schools, which are also in financial trouble and already get state aid channeled through local districts. (busing, books, nurses, special services) Tax dollars don’t support the religion — they support the kid.

  14. Vouchers are a brutal idea and nothing more then a way for those in power to make it look like they care. It only covers up the problem. How many more school districts have to suffer from inner city kids? Fix those schools, don’t bring their problems into the other schools. My school district saw an incredible rise in violence and drugs and an incredible decline in grades when kids started to get in from the city. Maybe actually caring about the inner cities as a whole is the answer instead of spreading the problem out. But then again if your running a large company or in a political office do you want an educated people?

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