The best way to help a struggling public school is to cannibalize it.
At least that’s what Betsy DeVos thinks – and so does her Pennsylvania puppet Mike Turzai.
The Republican Speaker of the state House is expected to propose a school voucher bill Monday that will treat Harrisburg Schools as nothing more than carrion fit for plunder by school privatization vultures.
Sure the district is in state receivership after decades of neglect and bad decisions by five members of the elected school board and administrators.
But instead of helping the school and its students get back on their feet, Turzai proposes siphoning away as much as $8.5 million in state funding set aside for the school’s aide. Alternatively, that money would go to help offset some of the cost of sending Harrisburg students to private or parochial schools if they so desire.
There are already 612 children living in district boundaries who attend nonpublic schools who would immediately benefit. So even if no additional students decided to take advantage of the program, that’s a $2.5 million cost to cover partial tuition for students the state is not currently paying to educate. If any additional students decided to take advantage of the program, the cost would increase.
However in lieu of any safeguards to make sure these children fleeing from the public system receive the same quality of services required by state law, Turzai’s bill goes out of its way to protect the vultures!
Under House Bill 1800, private or parochial schools won’t be held as accountable for how they spend the money they plunder from Harrisburg nor will it force them to enroll all comers like authentic public schools are required to do.
Specifically, non-public schools would be allowed to take public tax dollars but refuse any students they wished – based on gender, race, religion, even special educational needs.
It’s bad policy and bad politics.
Essentially Turzai is proposing we swoop in and tear the district to pieces – for its own good.
The bill would force state taxpayers to pay for half the cost of the voucher program – essentially making us shell out our hard earned money for two parallel education systems.
It’s unclear where the other half of the money would even come from that the state is supposed to match.
Thinking people know this is nonsense on so many levels. If the public schools have problems, there’s no reason to believe school vouchers hold the answer. After all, the best way to save yourself from drowning is to patch up the boat you’re already on. You shouldn’t jump to a lifeboat willy-nilly with no assurance that your escape craft is more seaworthy than the one you’re already sailing on.
And in fact, there is no evidence that voucher schools are better than authentic public schools.
Countless academic studies back this up. A recent 25-year meta analysis from Stanford University concluded that school vouchers do nothing to improve student achievement and distract from real solutions that could yield better results.
A 2018 Study from the University of Virginia found that once you take family income out of the equation, there are absolutely zero benefits of going to a private school. The majority of the advantage comes from simply having money and all that comes with it – physical, emotional, and mental well-being, living in a stable and secure environment, knowing where your next meal will come from, etc.
A 2018 Department of Education evaluation of the Washington, D.C., voucher program found that public school students permitted to attend a private or parochial school at public expense ended up getting worse scores than they had at public school.
Their scores went down 10 points in math and stayed about the same in reading.
The results of these studies were so damaging that school voucher lobbyists no longer even try to make the argument that sending kids to private or parochial schools has academic benefits. Instead they rely on the ideological belief that privatization is always better than public services.
Turzai is literally proposing legislation on an outdated far right talking point. But his whole plan isn’t exactly fresh. We’ve seen versions of it almost every legislative session.
Once Turzai introduces the bill next week, it’s expected that his Republican colleagues who have a majority in both the House and Senate due to grossly gerrymandered districts will vote to pass it. Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has promised to veto it.
While Republicans have the numbers to overturn any veto, it is doubtful they would actually do so. Historically they only need to show DeVos and her billionaire friends like the Koch Brothers that they tried to pass their ALEC-written legislation. They don’t actually have to pass it. In fact, doing so would make them responsible for it and could result in voters – even in such gerrymandered districts – turning against them.
After all, school vouchers are incredibly unpopular. Every time the issue has been left to a popular vote, it has been turned down.
And Republicans know that. This is just theater to please the wealthy donor class.
Unless people stop paying attention. Then they may try to sneak it through.
Because there’s a lot more at stake than just disrupting the recovery process at Harrisburg schools.
The bill as drafted would only currently apply to Harrisburg – specifically when a receiver is appointed in a school district of the second class located in a city of the third class, within a county of the third class.
But all it would take is a receiver to be appointed for the following districts to be affected:
Allentown City, Bethlehem Area, Coatesville Area, Easton Area, Erie City, Hazleton Area, Hempfield Area, Lancaster, Penn-Trafford, Reading, Wilkes-Barre Area and York City school districts.
So this could easily become a backdoor voucher initiative for our poorest districts to become the next course on the buzzards’ menu.
But perhaps the strangest turn in this whole concern is Turzai’s apparent ambition.
He seems to be trying to position himself once again as the next gubernatorial challenger to Democrat Wolf.
And how is he planning to define that challenge? As a clone of the last dope who tried it – Scott Wagner.
Republicans don’t seem to get the message. Voters – regardless of political affiliation – care about public schools.
They ousted Tom Corbett when he slashed school funding. They voted against Wagner in droves. And the best Turzai can think to do is ape these two fools?
DeVos, herself, is perhaps the most unpopular Education Secretary in history – and that’s even with the stiff competition of Arne Duncan and John King.
School privatization is a political loser.
No one wants to violate the separation of church and state just to give private businesses a larger cut of our tax dollars.
We want equity for our public schools so all our students can learn.
Why can’t birdbrains like Turzai get that through their skulls?
Perhaps if they stopped picking through the bones of struggling schools they would.
If you live in Pennsylvania, please click here to ask your state representative to vote against the bill.
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