Recently the Keystone Central School Board voted against vouchers that permit parents to send their children to the school of their choice.
That is an unfortunate institutional denial of choice and freedom. One would think that parents and their children have an inherent right to choose the school they want to attend.
Matthew Brouillette of the Commonwealth Foundation explains the General Assembly voucher proposal this way. "Senators Jeff Piccola and Tony Williams recently introduced legislation (Senate Bill 1) that would dramatically expand school choice options of low- and middle-income families through tax-funded scholarships paid for with the $26 billion Pennsylvanians already spend on K-12 education."
Note the phrase "$26 billion Pennsylvanians already spend." Piccola is a Republican and Williams is a Democrat. Both must believe that education needs a hard kick in the slats and that real reform will not come from new rules or additional resources.
In our board's decision we heard no debate on how to change the schools into something so attractive that vouchers would be unnecessary.
I interviewed district superintendent Kelly Hastings earlier this year. She, the teachers, and the school board are working toward productive change. But the knee-jerk reaction to the potential loss of their monopoly has nothing to do with productivity enhancements she described.
So we see long-sputtering public schools now extraordinarily frightened by extraordinary calls for change.
Education inconsistencies have for years shouted at us.
Parents of home schooled children are forced to pay real estate taxes while they do the school's work.
Parents who send their children to the Lock Haven Catholic School and to other church schools carry double the freight in public school taxes and their private-school tuition. Single and elderly people who have no dog in this fight continue to pay an ever increasing local tax burden.
One would think these groups would carry torch and pitchfork to school board meetings. Yet they quietly shoulder the load while the loaders loudly defy reason.
Nor will we hear from public school board directors about the productivity of religious and other private schools. Students who have completed the six grades at the Lock Haven Catholic School read at the 12th-grade public school level. Or they did a few years ago when the former principal of the Catholic school told me of it. I reported it then in this paper.
Plain decency says you should not pay school taxes if you home school or use a church school. You're not using the government schools. Sure, if your children use school buses, then pay a pro-rated transportation cost.
The voucher issue gets even uglier if a recent Commonwealth Foundation release is correct. CF claims, "More than $59 million of taxpayer money is funneled through taxpayer-funded public school districts directly to organizations frequently involved in lobbying against the interest of taxpayers and underserved children."
One hundred twenty districts have not yet responded to the Foundation's Open Records request. There are 500 state school districts.
The Foundation offers a table of "dues, insurance and add-on services" paid to organizations such as the American Federation of Teachers, the Pennsylvania Association of Elementary and Secondary School Principals, the Pennsylvania State Education Association, and the Pennsylvania School Boards Association.
Keystone Central paid $323,600 to such organizations. I asked how these payments were linked to lobbyists. CF replied: "None of these agencies would have any reason to favor a re-assignment or real estate taxes based on school use by taxpayers.
"The totals [listed in the CF table] represent all payments by school districts to organizations, including membership dues and other fees for services, as well as union dues forcibly taken out of the paychecks of public school employees and sent to directly to unions.
"Some of the associations provide certain services either as a part of the membership, or for an additional fee (e.g., the PSBA PA School Boards Assoc. - offers insurance for school board members).
"The aggregation represents all the money these groups are receiving from school districts while lobbying for more taxpayer funding for school districts, and against school vouchers or anything that would challenge the status quo. For instance these groups joined a coalition called "Pennsylvanians Opposed to Vouchers:" see www.psba.org/issues-advocacy/issues-research/vouchers/POV-news-release-2-15-11.pdf. See the story on the survey they paid for at: www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/news/s-731779.html."
The $323,600 shipped out by our school district is peanuts compared to the $76 million 2011-2012 budget on the KC Website. But it's enough to improve instruction several ways, including hiring more teachers. Since it doesn't, it seems like a dead loss to the school's mission.
Harlan Berger at firstname.lastname@example.org is a freelance writer whose views do not necessarily represent those of The Express. The Commonwealth Foundation's April 12 release, Millions Funneled to Lobbyists by the Public Schools, contains a link to the lobby payment table.