[The Senate Education Committee will be meeting on Tuesday, December 12th at 10:30 am in Room 8E-A in the East Wing of the Harrisburg Capitol to vote (again) on a very disturbing bill. From Chester County, that Committee includes Sen Andy Dinniman; share your thoughts with Sen. Dinniman on his site or at 717-787-5709 (your thoughts do count, and get counted and cited).
This bill is part of an ongoing Republican effort to sabotage public education (of which the ballot question that passed last month was an integral part). SB 2 would take money away from the school districts that most need it and turn it over to non-public schools. If legislators want to help students, they should adequately fund public schools, not take away their money! And let us not think that Chester County, whose schools are among the best in the state, would be unaffected; rather, any student from anywhere in the state could bring ESA (voucher) status to Chester County and attend a private or religious school at the expense of the very public school system that could be meeting the student’s needs. See the part in red below.]
SB 2 proposes to create a new and costly government entitlement program that will take taxpayer money out of public schools and give it to parents to spend on private school tuition and other educational expenses. Under SB 2, families whose children attend or have attended a low-performing school* will receive an education savings account (ESA) filled with taxpayer money if they withdraw their child from public school. Funding for ESAs would be subtracted from the state funding a student’s school district receives and put into an ESA for that student’s family to spend.
ESAs will drain desperately-needed funding from public schools and reduce access to educational opportunities for all students in order to fund the private education of a few.
ESAs enshrine discrimination against Pennsylvania’s children into law. ESAs enable the resegregation of public schools and allow private schools accepting taxpayer dollars to discriminate on the basis of gender, religion, and disability status. Students with disabilities, if they are permitted to enroll in a private school, must give up their rights under Federal law to an appropriate education.
ESAs are designed to benefit wealthy families, not families with low or modest incomes. The amount of funding a family receives in an ESA in many cases will not be enough to cover the full tuition at a private school.
ESAs are expensive to administer and financial oversight and accountability are limited, leaving taxpayer dollars ripe for waste, fraud, and abuse. Arizona, which has had ESAs for 6 years, has seen families use ESA funding to make non-educational purchases and other fraud. Once families spend these taxpayer dollars, it is almost impossible to recover them.
ESAs can impact any school district, not just districts with low performing schools. A student who receives an ESA is eligible for an ESA for the rest of his K-12 school career, regardless of school district he lives in. When students with ESAs move, their new school districts will have state funding reduced by the amount that is deposited into the student’s ESA.
There is no academic oversight or accountability for private schools that would receive public funding. SB 2 does not require private schools to administer state assessments or require any regulation or oversight over the education that private schools provide students.
It is deeply troubling that instead of focusing on adequately funding public schools, which educate 90% of PA’s students and are open to every child, many lawmakers are instead working to advance the agenda of the school privatization lobby, which will create more costs for taxpayers and even deeper deprivation for students in public schools.
Please contact your legislators today and urge them to oppose SB 2.
*Low performing schools are those that are in the bottom 15% of performers based on PSSA and Keystone exam scores. These do not include charter schools or career and technical education centers.