Bethlehem Press

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Educators pan voucher vote

Tuesday, May 29, 2018 by Nate Jastrzemski njastrzemski@tnonline.com in Local News

The Pennsylvania School Boards Association and Bethlehem administrators are disappointed in a recent vote by the Senate Education Committee to approve Senate Bill 2, creating Education Savings Accounts, or vouchers, that take state tax money out of neighborhood public schools for use at private schools.

According to a PSBA release, Under Senate Bill 2, money is taken away from a school district’s state subsidy to provide ESA vouchers to students in the attendance boundaries of public schools ranking in the bottom 15 percent based on state standardized test scores, to attend private schools and pay for “other valid educational expenses.” Students can continue to use vouchers even if the school improves or the student moves out of the district. ESA voucher proposals are being pushed in other states as foot-in-the-door schemes to create taxpayer-funded government subsidies for private schools and vendors.

More than 240 school districts across the state have adopted resolutions opposing the ESA voucher plan that is estimated to siphon more than $500 million dollars away from Pennsylvania school districts, many that are already under-resourced.

In addition, the results of a public opinion poll conducted earlier this month by Terry Madonna Opinion Research show that most Pennsylvanians are opposed to giving parents taxpayer-funded vouchers to send their children to private schools and prefer investing state funds to strengthen resources to help public schools. Survey respondents said providing additional funding and resources was a better way to help students in struggling schools and few see vouchers as a priority.

“Vouchers reduce fair access to educational opportunity for all students and are unresponsive to the issue of poverty. They divert scarce resources from public schools that serve all students to pay for private schools for a few,” said PSBA Chief Executive Officer Nathan G. Mains.

Mains also emphasized that ESA vouchers are not a proven strategy to enhance educational outcomes. “Weak academic accountability requirements under Senate Bill 2 make it impossible to compare and evaluate achievement and progress of participating students, creating apples-to-oranges comparisons. Additionally, the simplistic notion that ESA vouchers will save taxpayers and school districts money defies the realities of voucher programs and mandatory public school expenditures. In fact, ESA vouchers are a privatization plan that will cost – not save – money for taxpayers and schools,” he added.

PSBA is committed to working with the General Assembly to find solutions which will allow struggling schools to improve and ensure all students reach their full potential, but Senate Bill 2, or any similar proposal, is not the plan to do it.

BASD Superintendent Dr. Joseph Roy said, “SB 2 is the latest attempt by advocates of privatizing public education to send public tax dollars in the form of vouchers to privately run schools that are not accountable to voters. It’s wrong and it is designed to undermine public schools. I would much prefer these same legislators focus on adequately funding our public schools so that all students can have their widely varying needs met.”

For more information on PSBA’s position, the polling results and other resources related to Senate Bill 2, visit PSBA’s issue page on the topic at https://www.psba.org/issue/esa-vouchers/