Pattye Benson

Community Matters

Red-Hot State Voucher Program Clears Initial Hurdle

Teacher unions and school board members must be lining up across the state this morning in opposition to the latest Senate Education Committee vote.

Calling the proposed school voucher bill, an ‘opportunity scholarship’, the committee voted 8-2 yesterday in favor of the proposed legislation. The bill intended to help the state’s poorest children from the lowest-performing schools by providing options of attending other public, private or parochial schools, did not pass the committee without debate. The troubling issues that many of us have discussed, including constitutionality, religious freedom and the cost to public schools were sticking points for two members of the committee.

The Senate Education Committee is composed of six Republicans and four Democrats. Co-sponsoring the proposed legislation is Democratic Sen. Anthony Williams and Senate Education Committee Chair Jeffrey Piccola (R-Dauphin). All six Republicans supported the bill, as did two Democrats, Williams and Sen. Andy Dinniman. If you recall Dinniman had some suggested amendments to the bill, including testing and accountability from the non-public schools. The opposing school voucher bill members of the committee were Democrats Jim Ferlo and Daylin Leach.

Leach debated the proposed legislation on the grounds that the bill is not constitutional. Ferlo and Leach are concerned that the voucher system could erode public schools whereas the others feel that the legislation actually offers a lifeline to those children trapped in the low-performing schools. The opposing sides present two distinctly different ways of looking at the same situation. Piccola suggests that Leach’s argument that the school voucher legislation is unconstitutional is an erroneous interpretation of the Pennsylvania Constitution. The chair of the Senate Education Committee also dismissed the argument that the bill is in conflict with the state constitution in regards to support of religious schools with public money.

With all the questions swirling around this legislation, why did the Senate Education Committee seemingly just push it along through the system? Usually, I would be complaining about the slowness of government process, but it is amazing the way this school voucher bill is bulldozing its way through Harrisburg.

Aside from the many questions, concerns and debates swirling around this voucher bill, why don’t we hear much about the cost of this ‘opportunity scholarship’? Gov. Corbett swept into the Governor’s office under the umbrella of austerity and budget constraints, so can someone please explain to me how the estimated $860 million in taxpayer costs by the end of the third-year phase of the voucher program, meets that mission? And the $860 million does not take in to consideration the dollars the bill will siphon from the public schools.

Help me understand . . . what am I missing?

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  1. Pattye,

    You asked for someone to help you understand. You obviously have the same feeling as many of us – astonishment at the apparent incompetence of state government. I have very bad news for you: your perceptions and feelings are correct. This is bad legislation, a failure to truly tackle the tough questions regarding public education, and it is going to be railroaded through in a hurry.

    One hopeful fact – the bill is unconstitutional and will very likely be stricken in court.

    I was legislative chairman for the TE school board for most of my eight years on the board. We saw Act 50 – a failure which was utilized by very few school districts across Pennsylvania. Did the legislature take the lesson and try a new approach? No! They re-hashed the failed concepts of Act 50 into Act 72. Act 72 was also a collossal failure – few if any takers. So, did the legislature take the lesson and start over with fresh thinking? No again! They re-hashed the same old re-hashed hash and garbage into Act 1 of 2006, and made it MANDATORY that districts appoint a tax study commission and place an income tax referendum on the ballot (these were voluntary under Acts 50 and 72). They apparently thought the voters would support the income tax shit in large numbers. They were wrong again. Voters all across the state overwhelmingly voted the proposition down. Again, few takers, only this time the people, not the school boards, ultimately made that decision.

    Meanwhile, the legislature passed one expensive unfunded mandate after another, passing the cost along to local school boards at the same time they were shouting about how “the school obards are out of control”. How about some relief from unfunded mandates? How about some help with cost control? Nope. They played the same game many on this blog play – “bash the board”.

    They changed the pension benefit multiplier – in one stroke of a pen unleashing a tsunami of red ink all across the state affecting every school district. State funding has not kept pace with the rising cost of education – which rises largely as a result of mandates by the state legislature. And still they blame the local boards.

    There used to be a partnership in which the state funded 50% of the cost of public education. That is down to about 34% today. They have done nothing to address the crumbling inner-city schools which fail the kids who need our help the most.

    And vouchers are their answer?! More old hash re-hashed! The idea of vouchers failed under Tom Ridge. Here we are again, back to the same old (failed) idea.

    Complete, utter, absolute and total incompetence. . . . . .

    1. Wow, Kevin, why don’t you let us know how you feel!

      This comment should go in the CM Hall of Fame, for content, style and outright passion.

      Although I do think that it doesn’t make economic sense now for T/E to hold out against “the income tax shit”.

      1. Sorry – shit was a typo, although maybe a Freudian slip. I meant to type “shift”.

        Ray, you do have a point on the EIT issue going forward. Totally different situation and needs to be debated in full on the merits. It may well be necessary. But it will take quite some doing to get over the opposition in our district.

        I think what people really want is some real reform of unfunded mandates to help local districts control costs, rather than just give the districts another funding source.

    2. Quite so. What does that say about “us” the electorate?
      But would things be better if the other party were in power? Does not the dearth of courage and vision encompass both parties?

  2. A “PS” to my prior comment – the two biggest factors busting the budgets of every school district in the state are healthcare costs and pensions. The legislature should work full time on finding ways to reduce these costs, rather than wasting ONE DAMM SECOND discussing vouchers!

    1. YOu tell em Mr. Grewell. But until something affects someone PERSONALLY — you know no one pays any attention. Now — move a bus stop….

  3. Kevin, thank you for that info. Been one that is not for vouchers, I totally agree that they are not fixing the problem, they are just adding one more crazy thing to the mess that is there. Want is wrong with these people in Harrisburg. Do they have the ablility to fix anything.

  4. Politics and satisfying their “base” ….it’s all that happens in any government nowadays. And lobbyists. The PSEA is across the street from the Capitol building…they’ll shut this down if they can, but they continue to consider collective bargaining for class size and full benefits as part of their mandate. What they cannot bargain, they “fix” legislatively.

  5. It would be interesting to hear what one of our representatives in Harrisburg might say to Kevin’s comments.

    Let’s take them one at a time –

    Act 50, Act 72, Act 1
    How many times have we heard, “My RE taxes are too high; do something about it!” All these acts were gave local officials and/or local residents the power to shift a portion of school funding from a RE based tax to an income based tax. All very logical from a legislator’s perspective.

    Unfunded Mandates
    I’d be interested to see a list of all these unfunded mandates. I would assume the biggest one is special education at, maybe, 10% of TE’s budget. Let’s suppose it grew from 5% of the budget to 10% of the budget over a 10 year period or a half-percent a year. I don’t have the data, but I bet over the same timer period the tax rate went up by about 5% per year. Blaming excessive school spending on unfunded mandates from Harrisburg is just a convenient excuse.

    PSERS Multiplier
    Here is one we agree upon. This was a huge mistake by those in Harrisburg early last decade. However, don’t blame past excessive school spending on PSERS. The big increases won’t start until next year.

    the 50% partnership
    I’m not concerned with the ratio of state educational spending vs. local educational spending. It’s the old argument of money out of the left pocket vs. the right pocket. I’m still poorer by the same amount. In fact, if the state share shifted from 34% to 50%, TE residents would bear the burden since we’re a high income area. State educational funding went from $3.7B in 99-00 to $5.5B in 09-10 or 5% per year. If anything, I’d blame legislators for spending too much on education. The reason the state share keeps falling is because local school boards can’t control their spending below 5% per year.

    vouchers under Tom Ridge
    Vouchers did fail to pass under the Ridge administration. Let’s give them a try. At a cost of $50M the first year and $100M the second year, it’s small compared to the $5B spent by the state each year on education.

    Act 1 of 2006
    It would be interesting to hear everyone’s viewpoint on the Act 1 Index. I love it. Finally, school directors’ poor decisions (the last teacher contract) are forced into the public view and directors are forced to think about tax consequences.

    1. Citizenone – I agree that it would be interesting to know the viewpoint of our state representative. I will email State Rep Warren Kampf and ask him to comment on the school voucher bill . . . does he support school vouchers? If he does support the proposed legislation, how does he respond to the concerns of the bill’s constitutionality? the cost of the program or of taxpayer dollars going to nonpublic schools.

    2. Reply to Citizenone:

      Where do I begin?

      Look, we were doing just fine keeping our annual tax increases well below 5% per year my last four years on the board – prior to, and without any “help” from Act 1 of 2006. During my second term on the board, the averaged tax increase for the four years was (DRUM ROLL, PLEASE!) 2.19%. Inflation at that time was between 3.5% and 4% annually.

      NOW, LET’s LOOK AGAIN – four year tax increase average 2.19%. HELLOOOOOOO! That’s “TWO-POINT NINE PERCENT”. (Did I say 2.19% – here, I’ll say it again: 2.19%!!!!!!!!!!)

      You like Act 1? You are almost alone. Only 8 (count ’em – 8) of the 501 school districts in PA passed the Act 1 “front-end” ballot referendum to enact the tax shift under Act 1. THE VOTERS ALL ACROSS PA REJECTED ACT 1. The VOTERS, when given the chance, did not want this. Not the allegedly stupid school boards, THE VOTERS.

      These are the same people who were screaming about property tax relief. The many flaws in the poorly drafted, poorly concieved law doomed it from the start.

      Unfunded mandates – I will answer that one in a future post, perhaps. It is late and that answer would be way,way,way too long. (Did I say “way” – here, I’ll say it again – WAY TOO LONG!)

      There are literally HUNDREDS of them. I will give you one small but incredibly STUPID example just to give you the flavor of it –

      One year early in my time on the board, I recall having to add over $60,000 per year to add additional accounting personnel to comply with a state law (“Your Schools Your Money, of “YSYM” if I recall) which REQUIRED the school district to keep two sets of books with two different accounting principles. Under Dept. of Education regulations, there already was one type of accounting and reporting to the state that was required. No depreciation. The new law mandated that we also do the standard accounting like a for-profit business – i.e., DEPRECIATE desks, books, buildings, vehicles, etc., just like a business. This was supposedly so you – the taxpaying public – could see where your money was going and hold public officials accountable. HELLOOOOOOO! WTF?

      I recall an angry citizen at the mic at one of our Act 1 public hearings – accusing us of “keeping two sets of books” as if we were hiding the true numbers from the public. After his accusation, he stormed out before he could hear the answer and explanation – that yes, indeed, we do keep two sets of books, because the state required us to – and BOTH are open to the public.

      It makes ZERO sense for a governemental taxing authority like a school district – which levies taxes but does not pay taxes like a business would – to depreciate anything!

      But you can see where your money is going – $60,000 a year forever, because someone in Harrisburg decided you needed to know where your money is going!

      I could give you a couple dozen more examples just as stupid, but I’m too tired now, and frankly too discouraged to care much longer.

      As my first scoutmaster (a Marine Corps veteran of WWII) would say: (speaking now of the state legislature) “If horns were made of Bulls–t, you would be a brass band.”

      Well, in PA we’ve got a whole brass band parade . . . . . .

      Sorry to be so angry, but I have sat through hundreds of hours of discussions on unfunded mandates. It is not an excuse. It is the TRUTH.

      1. Kevin, thank you for your service on the school board, and thank you for explaining so clearly what is wrong with the process.
        I hope those that are the biggest complainers on this blog will get off their duffs and run for the board so they can demonstrate their financial prowess.

        1. Thanks for that, Mainlinetaxpayer – it is good to hear that.

          I do apologize to Citizenone for my tone in the last post – it was unecessarily irritable. It is not personal to anyone, I’m just very frustrated by the whole situation.

          By the way, I may have been thinking of GASB 34 in my example above. The point is the same anyway.

          Everyone does make good points from time to time, and this is a very complicated problem. Nobody is right or wrong all of the time.

          Anyway, I’m taking a break for a while. Nuff’ said on this topic . . . .

  6. I am deeply disappointed that Sen. Dinniman has decided to vote in favor of vouchers. I think we can assume Rep. Kampf will vote with his Republican colleagues in favor of spending up to $1 billion of taxpayer money over the next three years to pay for vouchers to private schools. It’s all about privatizing the public schools and the weakening the teachers’ unions. – not about fixing the problem.

    But a few FACTS shoud be considered before this bill becomes law (aside from the question of its constitutionality.)

    Fact: Based on recent research by the Program for International Student Assessment – see – no country near the top of the international rankings has implemented taxpayer-funded vouchers .Not one.

    Fact: PA is the only state in the nation that has improved achievement in all subjects and at all grade levels every year since 2002.

    Why mess with the state’s funding formula? It has produced steady progress and measurable results.

    At a time when the state Assembly is talking about cutting $1 billion from public education funding, our legislators have NO business sending taxpayer money to private schools.

    According to Stephen Herzenberg, economist and director of Keystone Research Center, world class educational systems have these things in common:

    1) School funding is the same or higher in low-income areas as in high income areas

    2) Top-ranked countries also integrate social services with educational systems.

    3) Top-ranked countries offer their teachers greater support to improve their classroom effectiveness.

    4) They have high-quality early childhood education programs.

    In short, high performing school systems succeed not by privatizing their schools but by strengthening the systems that support public education.

    Every voter should understand that vouchers will lead to even deeper cuts in state support for public education. It is more, not less likely, that school districts will become more dependent on local property taxes as a result.

    S.B.1 will lower the quality of education for far more children in PA than any voucher program could possibly help. I understand Mr. Grewell’s passion and anger. I share it.

  7. Changing the subject but wanted to congratulate Conestoga Theatre on nailing Phantom, an incredibly difficult show to pull off. It was truly a championship game for these kids and I recommend seeing it.

    Well done!!!

    1. +1 to this.

      Stoga musicals are just phenomenal: talented kids, great shows, grand productions (the boat!), glamorous costumes, on and on. Helped by huge support from parents and others.

      See it if you can.

      “Keep your hands at the level of your eyes!”

  8. Perhaps this action has some union-busting angle to it, but at the same time haven’t the teachers’ unions worked hard to block any positive change in education — especially in poor peforming districts — that would weaken their power?

    Sadly, teachers (esp. good teachers) are stuck in the middle between people who want positive change and a union structure unwilling to budge. Talk to a teacher and you will see that many of them disagree with the tactics and stands of their union officials.

    There are other options to improve schools: merit-based pay systems, hiring reforms, tenure reform, etc.

    There are other options to save money: elimination of the automatic step increase, union concessions on healthcare, etc.

    However, almost every one of these options have been blocked time and again by the union heads. It’s no wonder that the voucher/opportunity scholarship option is now gaining speed. And it’s now surprise the unions are again 100% against it.

    While many are targeting GOP politicians for attack over this issue, I find it more amazing that no one has chosen to attack the much greater number of Dem politicians who claim to be for improving public education but consistently shrink from taking any action the teachers’ unions tell them not to. If the Dem politicians would stand up against the teachers’ unions from time to time, perhaps the voucher option wouldn’t even be on the table today.

  9. As “kate” said, “It’s all about privatizing the public schools and … weakening the teachers’ unions.” Exactly: because the teacher unions are the first and biggest obstacle to solving any public education problem.

    Pattye, I don’t understand why you think “school board members must be lining up across the state this morning in opposition to” vouchers. The school board is supposed to represent the taxpayers, not the public education establishment. As I’ve explained before vouchers should only reduce the total taxpayer cost to meet our legal education requirements. Ergo, any school board honoring its duty should be happy to see the state implementing this escape valve.

    1. School board members must have a committment to fight for quality public education. Vouchers are an ineffective so-called “solution” to the problem of poor quality – at best – at worst they are an outright attack on public education. Either interpretation dictates that a school board member, as an advocate for public education, must oppose vouchers.

      The idea of “leaving behind” the poor disadvantaged kids with prroblems, concentrating them in failing schools while paying a few to escape is an abdication of the state’s duty to ALL children. It is morally and ethically wrong.

      The legislature has NEVER even begun to tackle the real heart of the problem. Shame on them, shame on us all for allowing them to shirk their duty.

      1. I guess this is part of the problem: If Kevin is any indication even the school board members may not know their job!

        School board members should not be ‘fighting for quality public education.’ School board members are not de facto ‘advocates for public education.’ They are elected to represent the interests of the taxpayers while upholding the legal obligations of the taxpayers to provide universal education.

        The taxpayers may decide that providing an exceptional public education is in their interest. Or they may decide that providing the minimal education required by law is in their interest. Either position is morally and legally valid, and it is the duty of the school board as their representatives to carry out the declared interests of the taxpayers.

        In any case, many of us — including experts who have studied this question deeply — believe that a voucher system will provide a better education for all students than the current public education monopoly, and furthermore that vouchers will do so at a lower gross cost. In that case it is morally wrong for a school board to oppose a voucher system.

        1. I could not disagree more. If you do not have a committment to high quality public education – and care passionately about the kids – then you have no business serving on the board of a public shcool.

          From time to time it is your duty to support or oppose legislation based upon what is in the best interest of your kids and your district. You may also have a duty to advocate for things that improve public education over all districts.

          Now, you do represent the taxpayers. Your job is to balance the statements above with the concerns of the taxpayers. That means fighting for the best possible quality at the most efficient cost.

          It does NOT mean doing as little as possible as cheaply as possible and to hell with the most vulnerable kids as “Lysander” clearly states.

          I’ll say it again – such a viewpoint is morally and ethically reprehensible.

          By the way, as for “the declared interests of the taxpayers” I note that in T/E the voters have for decades consistently elected and re-elected pro-education boards and are generally supportive of keeping the high quality of our schools. I am proud to have lived in and to have served in a community in which the majority of citizens do not share Lysander’s views.

          We HAVE represented the declared interests of our voters – they have declared their desire for the highest possible quality schools at the most efficinet cost. I would say that overall, in T/E that goal has been met. We are among the best districts in the state and have some of the lowest school taxes.

          This quality, has been achieved with a good balance of fiscal concerns – T/E has among the LOWEST school property taxes in the state, consistently ranking in the 470’s out of 501 districts in PA. Again, in my last 4 years on the board, our tax increase average was 2.19% when inflation was running 3.5 to 4%.

          Now, having said all of that, I would also point out that the state has an obligation to provide a good quality education for all children – not just kids in affluent communities like T/E which enjoy a strong tax base, but also in poor and innner-city neighborhoods. If vouchers would actually help those kids, I would be all for them. But they don’t.

          Cheaping out on schools is a false economy. You end up paying a lot more later for wellfare, crime, prisons, economic losses due to unproductive uncompetitive citizens, and so on.

    2. Lysander,

      School board members do represent the “taxpayers”. But – which taxpayers? Parents with kids in the schools are taxpayers too. They often want better programs and more spending. Seniors on “fixed incomes” may want less spending – but even this is not so simple. Some seniors are grandparents who care about the education their granchildren are getting. They may support spending to maintain the quality of the program. Taxpayers of all ages care about property values, and understand the relationship between quality schools and the value of their most important investment – their homes.

      Nobody likes property taxes, but in our community there is a lot of support for quality schools. Not everyone wants only the “minimum” or the “legal requirement” in education. In fact, you, Lysander, are in a minority.

      You oversimplify the argument, assuming that “representing the taxpayers” means supporting vouchers. It may well be that many school board members who study the issue will conclude that representing the taxpayers dictates that they oppose vouchers.

      The facts do not support your assertions that vouchers will result in more efficiency or lower costs. But most of all, your emphasis on meeting only the minimum legal requirements for education is telling.

  10. Senator Dinniman’s support of this bill speaks volumes about his character, and I believe it will help his reelection campaign. (Kate- you are disappointed in his support, but I also doubt that you’d support a Republican candidate over Sen. Dinniman as a result of his vote.) But Dinniman’s support of this bill will likely gain him a considerable number of independent voters since it shows him to be a reasonable man, willing to risk the ire of union supporters to do what he believes is right.

    If this bill provided vouchers to wealthy T/E parents, very few people would support it. But this bill will not harm T/E taxpayers at all, and it doesn’t apply to wealthy or even to middle class students. Instead, it gives poor students in the worst school districts in our state a chance to get a better education.

    You might have moral qualms about how this means that state tax dollars will go to parochial schools, Or perhaps you have concerns that this will further weaken these failing schools by giving the best and most motivated students a way out.

    These are reasonable concerns, but you should put yourself in the position of these students. Don’t they deserve a good education? Shouldn’t they have a chance to escape a failing school?

    Senator Dinniman clearly was able to view this bill from the perspective of these needy students and is willing to support it even though it will alienate some people like Kate who make up his Democratic base. Isn’t that what we want from politicians?

    This voucher bill has angered the unions, and they have put their money and their political clout behind its defeat. This shows that the unions are more concerned with defeating any threat to their political power than with actually helping the neediest kids in PA. And that’s exactly why many voters are turning against public employee unions.

    Do you see a better near-term solution for these kids? Or do you think it’s fair to condemn another generation of kids to the worst schools in PA while politicians (who send their own kids to either private schools or to public schools in top districts) look for a solution that doesn’t anger any important special interest groups?

  11. Vouchers are not the solution. We have to have a two step approach to the failing schools.
    The first step is going to rattle a lot of liberal minds and certainly is not a”politically correct” – and that is we need o re-establish discipline on school property. Currently in many failing schools there is no discipline and the teachers fear the students rather than the students respecting the teachers. We may start with dress codes and requiring courtesy and civility. These steps are being carried out in most of the Charter schools with positive impact.
    Secondly — the culture of the family unit needs to change. When the parent does not care then the kids do not care. Look at the Charter schools — parents care and they apply for their children – the first step to success. They also make sure that their kids maintain good grades.
    Amazingly the best high school in the State happens to be in Philadelphia. In a very old building with not many perks and class sizes of about 30. Why does it work — cause the families make it work because they are interested and care.
    Tell me please how many vouchers will be used in the city of Chester? Where will these kids go??? And what will remain??

  12. Papadick —

    You are right about family attitude, but there isn’t a legislator in the world who can make that happen.

    However, you say vouchers aren’t the answer but then cite charter schools as a success b/c parents care and apply for their children. Vouchers will give MORE parents the opportunity to do the same. Are they the final answer? Probably not, because there is no one, simple solution. But, by your examples, maybe they help.

  13. In Additional Perspective’s opinion, “… this bill will not harm T/E taxpayers at all, and it doesn’t apply to wealthy or even to middle class students.”

    Ha! That’s why taxpayers who live in areas with good schools are willing to support vouchers – because they think it will not affect them.

    But they’d be wrong. The state funding formula will change to reflect the high cost of providing vouchers. Public school districts like T/E will get less from the state than they do now. A double whammy of budget cuts and reallocation of available funds.

    And if PA’s governor follows Wisconsin’s ideologically driven governor, it will only be be a few years before vouchers will be offered to middle class and wealthy students as well. Because the real objective is to shrink the public school system and decimate the teachers’ unions. Under free-market, privatize everything governors, the two-hundred year-old commitment to provide a good-quality education to every child in PA will be reduced to a mishmash of private, religious and public schools – traditional and charter.

    And the state’s responsibility to maintain high standards and provide proper oversight will be weakened.

    So much for 7 consecutive years of gains for PA students and our state’s ranking in the top ten..

    I agree with From the West, who suggests,” there are other options to improve [public] schools”. And I believe public school teachers must play an important part in any workable solution.

  14. Kate-

    You missed the point of my comments and actually distorted them to make your point. If you read what I wrote:
    “If this bill provided vouchers to wealthy T/E parents, very few people would support it. But this bill will not harm T/E taxpayers at all, and it doesn’t apply to wealthy or even to middle class students. Instead, it gives poor students in the worst school districts in our state a chance to get a better education.”

    You took one line “this bill will not harm T/E/ taxpayers at all” out of context. But the emphasis is on the last sentence. This bill is a chance for poor students in the worst school districts to get a better education.

    If we were talking about taking state money so wealthy people in T/E could send their children to elite prep schools, I’d agree with you. But I think it’s kind of ridiculous for those of us in T/E who have a functioning school district to deny those children in failing schools the opportunity to get a better education.

    Your comments indicate concern for T/E because the bill — if extended to this region– could reduce the funding T/E receives. However, you’ve just done the same thing you accused me of: prioritizing the needs of students in T/E over the needs of poor students in the worst schools in the state.

    I do not believe this bill would reduce funding for T/E, but I do believe it is important to give these kids a shot. There’s a discussion on another post about whether poverty is a result of educational failure or whether educational failure causes poverty. Let’s try to do something about it by giving these kids a better education.

  15. John said:

    “You set up a false premise. We cannot possibly deny anything because we don’t make/enforce policy. If there is any group that has failed the those children, start with Harrisburg, the City of Philadelphia, the Philly School Board, the teacher’s union and in some cases, the parents”.


    “To be candid, if there was a referendum on whether to accept kids from outside districts, I would vote no.
    And yes… I tend to prioritize my kids… And yes, as a community, we should collectively prioritize our own kids first. Nobody else is going to do it”.

    John – you and I have disagreed on many things, but with your statements (above) I am in complete agreement.

  16. In the third year of SB1 as written, poor kids in any school district, including the best school districts in the state (like T/E and Lower Merion) who are already attending parochial schools would be eligible for vouchers.

    If you know how many kids fall into that group in T/E and what the actual state funding share per student is for your district you can arrive at a the total financial exposure for T/E.

    For Haverford that estimate is over $1 million:

    1. Give it a rest asked “How is this (vouchers) different from how charter schools are funded now?”

      Answer – Charter schools were authorized by Act 22 of 1997, and are, by law “public schools” even though they are privately owened businesses. They do have to meet certain requirements and be “chartered” by the state. However, while they do have to meet some of the standards and accountability of a traditional public school, they are free form many of the costly mandates that apply to traditional public schools. For example, their students do have to take the state standardized tests (“PSSA”). They are not burdened with unionized teachers, the costly state pension system, and many other madates. In the case of “cyber” charter schools, they do not even have the expense of providing brick-and-mortar classrooms.

      Yet, the entire per-student cost follows the student who goes to a charter school. In other words, charters do not charge tuition like parochial or private schools, rather the tradional public school district has to fork over the per-student cost to that charter school for each student from that district who attends a charter school.

      With vouchers, only the state funding part of the per-student budget follows the student. In the case of T/E, which gets very little state money, that amount would be minimal – not enough to pay the tuition at a private school.

      Now, charters are not sectarian or religious, thus avoiding the constitutional issue presented by vouchers which can be used to pay tuition at religious schools.

      By the way, PSBA (Pennsylvania School Board Association) has some articles on its web site about charter schools. An Oct. 2009 white paper “A look at charter school and student performance” concludes that academically, charters do not perform on par with public schools. Also, a study by the Educational Research Policy Center shows that contrary to claims, public school districts do not realize any savings when they send students to charter schools. I know this to be true – in my 8 years on the T/E school board, I sat through yearly budget discussions in which the charter school tuition was a cost item with no corresponding savings.

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