Pattye Benson

Community Matters


Tredyffrin Resident Christine Johnson Says NO to SB 1 . . . Making your Voice Count!

There has been much discussed about the proposed school voucher bill, SB 1. But Tredyffrin resident Christine Johnson is doing more than just talking . . . she’s taking her voice and saying NO to SB 1. Christine adopted her ‘Resolution Opposing Senate Bill 1’ (below) and sent it to Senator Andy Dinniman and State Rep Warren Kampf. According to Christine, ” . . . they need our support in order to say ‘NO’ . . . “

Creating change starts with one person –I am proud of Christine and applaud her effort to show all that your voice can count! If you are interested in following Christine’s example, here are email addresses:

State Rep Warren Kampf:
State Sen Andy Dinniman:


By Christine E. Johnson
986 Mt. Pleasant Avenue
Wayne, PA 19087

WHEREAS, school districts in the Commonwealth have continued to make steady gains in academic achievement and create innovative and effective
programs and curricula for all public school students and Pennsylvania is the only state in the nation to have increased academic achievement in every subject, at all tested grade levels and for all ethnic, racial and
economic subgroups of students from 2002 through 2008; and

WHEREAS, the implementation of a tuition voucher program, over-expansion of any existing tax credit program or incentivizing a student’s transfer out of the public education system in any way takes financial resources away from traditional public schools and diminishes the great strides that have been made in those schools and increases the burden on property taxpayers and their resident school districts working toward greater academic successes; and

WHEREAS, unlike nonpublic and private schools, public school districts in the Commonwealth accept and educate children regardless of race,
ethnicity, gender, religion or academic talents, as opposed to those institutions that are able to reject applicants based on low academic performance, discipline issues or any number of other factors; and

WHEREAS, unlike nonpublic and private schools, public schools in the Commonwealth are held to strict accountability standards in an effort to
measure student achievement and academic progress, unlike private and parochial schools which are not required to give state assessments or
publish student achievement data; and

WHEREAS, there is no consistent evidence to demonstrate that students who utilize vouchers make any better academic progress in nonpublic or private schools than they did prior to transferring; and

NOW THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that Christine E. Johnson opposes Senate Bill 1 and any other legislation or any effort by the General Assembly to implement a tuition voucher program in the Commonwealth or any other program that would have an effect similar to that of a tuition voucher program, and encourages its elected officials to oppose the same.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that Christine E. Johnson directs her legislators to take immediate action about the need to oppose Senate Bill 1 and the negative consequences on the school district and the public education system at large and to provide a copy of this resolution to them.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that Christine E. Johnson will encourage others, including parents, students and district taxpayers, to contact the
Pennsylvania General Assembly to convey the importance of supporting public education in the Commonwealth.

Adopted this 31st day of March 2011.


Christine E. Johnson

Will the Proposed SB1 School Voucher Program Further Erode Failing-School Communities?

The Following op-ed article by Larry Feinberg appeared in Monday’s issue of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Lawrence A. Feinberg is a school board member in Haverford Township, the chairman of the Delaware County School Boards Legislative Council, and a co-chairman of the Keystone State Education Coalition.

In the past, Larry has contributed comments to Community Matters. As we know (and as Larry reminds us), in its present state, the SB1 school voucher bill does not require accountability from private or parochial schools. Our understanding is that Sen. Andy Dinniman is addressing that aspect of the bill and suggests that accountability needs to be included as an amendment. As I have previously stated, I am unclear how student testing and accountability will be possible in a private school setting.

In his opinion article, Larry speaks of the failing-school community . . .

“S.B. 1 would dismantle neighborhood schools by siphoning off motivated students and parents, leaving behind a truly concentrated population of failing students, including those who are less motivated, “hard to educate,” disabled, troubled, and able to speak little English. S.B. 1 offers absolutely nothing to help those students or improve their schools.”

Larry makes an important, and often over-looked point, that may be inherent in the proposed school voucher program. . . the erosion or the ‘dismantling’ of a failing-school community when families and students opt out of the local public school. Isn’t there a real possibility that a school voucher program could cause further deterioration in a failing-school community, even beyond the walls of the local public school?

PA’s Unaccountable School Voucher Bill
By Lawrence A. Feinberg
In support of Pennsylvania’s Senate Bill 1, which would provide taxpayer-funded vouchers to private schools, voucher evangelists have been citing a report by the Foundation for Educational Choice, “A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on How Vouchers Affect Public Schools.” However, a review of the report by the National Education Policy Center finds no credible evidence that vouchers have improved student achievement.

Located at the University of Colorado at Boulder, the National Education Policy Center aims to provide high-quality information on education policy. Its review found that the “Win-Win” report, “based on a review of 17 studies, selectively reads the evidence in some of those studies, the majority of which were produced by voucher advocacy organizations.

“Moreover, the report can’t decide whether or not to acknowledge the impact of factors other than vouchers on public schools. It attempts to show that public school gains were caused by the presence of vouchers alone, but then argues that the lack of overall gains for districts with vouchers should be ignored because too many other factors are at play.” The review goes on to note that “existing research provides little reliable information about the competitive effects of vouchers, and this report does little to help answer the question.”

Voucher proponents tout the supposed benefits of competition, but the playing field is not even close to level. The state’s public schools operate under the bureaucratic weight of the Pennsylvania School Code’s thousand pages (also created by the legislature) and another thousand pages of No Child Left Behind requirements. They face a virtual army of special-education attorneys with another thousand pages of laws. They are subject to right-to-know and sunshine laws. And they must bear the costs of complying with all of them.

Religious and other private schools are relatively unaffected by any of this red tape, rendering the notion of fair competition ludicrous.

Public schools are required to accept and expected to educate every student who shows up, regardless of economic status, English proficiency, disabilities, or behavioral problems. It’s the law.

Here’s where “choice” really comes in: Private schools can choose to accept or reject any prospective student, and they can choose which students they retain or expel.

S.B. 1 demands accountability, but only from traditional public schools. While voucher proponents hold the accountability banner high, accusing high-poverty public schools of failing, there is no accountability whatsoever imposed under this bill’s voucher scheme. It would allow private schools to receive tax dollars without being accountable for students’ academic performance, requiring no standardized tests and making no scores available to the public.

Nor does the bill impose any accountability for how private schools spend tax dollars. There would be no transparency, public budgets, or right to know.

Meanwhile, S.B. 1 would dismantle neighborhood schools by siphoning off motivated students and parents, leaving behind a truly concentrated population of failing students, including those who are less motivated, “hard to educate,” disabled, troubled, and able to speak little English. S.B. 1 offers absolutely nothing to help those students or improve their schools.

Ultimately, S.B. 1 and its so-called opportunity scholarships would provide our state legislators with an opportunity to wash their hands of their responsibility to provide a thorough and efficient system of public education for all.

School Voucher Discussion Continues in Harrisburg, Sen. Dinniman Offers Possible Solutions to SB1 Issues

Yesterday in Harrisburg, the Senate Education Committee held a hearing to discuss the Opportunity Scholarship and Education Improvement Tax Credit Act (SB1), the proposed school voucher legislation. We understand that in the first year, SB1 would provide approximately $9,000 in voucher dollars to low-income students enrolled in the 144 worst performing schools in the state. The second year of the proposed legislation would provide school voucher dollars to all low-income students who live within the boundaries of those 144 schools. If I understand correctly, the average cost to educate a student in Pennsylvania is more than $16,000 and a school voucher student would bring in $9,000. The school district would retain the difference, approximately $7,000. In the end, more money per student would remain in the school.

The Senate hearing included some proposed changes to SB1, specifically how the school voucher program would work in the third year. As currently written the proposed legislation would expand the statewide school voucher program to include all students in the third year. Although a school choice supporter, Sen. Andy Dinniman presented a pair of amendments to address some of the concerns of the proposed school voucher legislation. One of his SB1 amendments addresses the cost of the proposed school voucher program (specifically in the third year) and funding issues. Dinniman’s other amendment responds to teacher union and school board concerns in regards to accountability issues of the proposed voucher program.

As a way to handle the costs of expanding the school voucher program to all students in the third year, Dinniman proposes using the state’s existing Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program. The current EITC program is funded by contributions made by businesses and is directed toward income-eligible students to help them to attend private or parochial schools. For their contributions, businesses receive a 70 percent tax credit (although Dinniman suggests lowering the tax credit to 65 percent).

This suggestion by Dinniman would reduce the high cost of extending the school voucher program statewide as the SB1 legislation currently suggests. There are projections that the implementation of the third year program in its current form, could range from $500M to $1B, depending on the number of students enrolled in the program. Since its implementation in 2001, the EITC program has benefited 244,000 students. Dinniman’s school voucher program would expand the EITC program, doubling the business contributions from $75M to $150M to help with school voucher funding.

Much discussion surrounding the SB1 legislation is concern over accountability in private and parochial schools. Dinniman’s suggestion to handle these concerns would be to mandate that students who leave the public school program must participate in the state’s standardized testing system. In theory I understand that the Senator is trying to address the educational standard concern that some may have over private schools but I am not sure how this proposed ‘standardized testing’ would work.

Use this as an example – Suppose a student decides to use the school voucher program, leaves the public school system and is enrolled in a private school. The private school has its own teaching methods and programming which may (or may not) align itself yearly to the curriculum of the state’s public school system. Perhaps, the private school teaches algebra in 7th grade and geometry in 8th grade whereas the public school reverses the order and teaches geometry in 7th grade and algebra in 8th grade. The seventh grade school voucher student is given the standardized math test, which includes geometry. However, this student is attending a private school that does not include geometry in the curriculum until 8th grade. As a result, the private school student (using the school voucher program) does poorly on the test. Obviously, this is a simplistic example of what could be a possible problem with mandating standardized testing in the private school arena.

Another possible problem but probably more easily addressed — the actual scheduling of the standardized testing. The school voucher student in the private school would have to ‘sit’ for the standardized testing and the scheduling of the testing may not be amenable to the private school schedule. It is my understanding that Sen. Dinniman’s two amendments are in the drafting stage, so I am confident that the accountability issues will be thoroughly vetted and a solution reached.

We know that the state’s teachers unions are generally opposed to the SB1 legislation as currently written. Michael Cross, VP of Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) reports that the union is open to further discussion if the legislation is amended. They would look at each of the amendments and see if it adequately meets the needs of the students. Although unwilling to comment specifically on Dinniman’s proposed amendment changes, Cross did remark that he would not support an amendment that takes funding from any of the state’s current education subsidies. Remember, Dinniman’s proposal to address SB1 funding concerns, doubles the EITC contribution.

Teachers’ Unions Set ‘Blocking School Vouchers’ as Priority

Two sides to every coin . . . supporters call school vouchers a right; a matter of choice. Opponents believe that the proposed voucher program is unconstitutional and will further erode the state’s lowest-performing schools.

The teacher union opposition to school vouchers became clearer this week when representatives from the two major unions brought their case to the state’s House Education Committee. Representatives from Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) and American Federation of Teachers of Pennsylvania (AFT-PA) told the Education Committee that the teacher unions were focusing on two major priorities for 2011 – budgetary assistance and blocking the proposed school voucher legislation.

Pennsylvania is loosing federal stimulus money, which will create a shortfall of $1 billion in education funding. According to Gov. Corbett, the state is facing a $4 billion deficit in next year’s budget so education-spending cuts are expected. If you recall, Corbett and Democratic state senator Anthony Williams of Philadelphia (one of school voucher bill SB1 originators) supported school vouchers in their individual campaigns last year. At this point, we do not know how steep the cuts in education spending will be and no one may know for sure until Corbett unveils his preliminary budget, which is expected to be delivered sometime in March.

Although the school voucher bill will have several hearings in the state House during the next couple of months, Corbett’s budget address in March may see the proposed legislation moving forward. As the proposed SB1 now stands, it would direct over $50 million to the neediest families in the lowest-performing schools in the state. The estimated cost of the program is less than 1% of the current education subsidy.

Besides the school voucher program, the other major education issue that must be addressed by the state is the funding of the Public School Employee Retirement System (PSERS). PSERS as currently designed is not sustainable and threatens to break the budget of school districts across the state. Although the State Legislature recognized the significance of the PSERS funding problem last year, a long-term solution is needed.

Anticipating a major battle ahead over the proposed school voucher legislation, the PSEA union, which represents 190,000+ teachers in Pennsylvania, has announced an 11% increase in dues for its members.

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 ( 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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