Word on the Street: Defunding Public Schools in the Name of “Choice”

Kim McMurray – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Politicians are always talking about the importance of education. They make grand statements like, “Education is the backbone of our nation.” “Children are our future.” “Schools should be palaces.” These make wonderful sound bites, but the truth of the matter is that our education system is in disarray. Public schools are overburdened and underfunded. Teachers are given little to no support in the classroom and are vilified in the media. Every year, public school teachers and expected to do more with less and suddenly, it’s as if every third grade teacher got into the profession to make a quick buck.

Pennsylvania politicians aren’t making it any easier. Some Senators in Harrisburg want to make the problem even worse by sinking billions of dollars into a tax-payer funded voucher scheme. Hiding behind a mantra of “school choice,” these vouchers would further defund our public schools and things we know make education better, like small class sizes, access to books and computers, safe schools, and good teachers.

Working America members understand this and are taking a stand against tax-payer funded school vouchers. Philadelphia member KB said, “Providing quality education programs will lead to successful, productive citizens who will be a benefit to our state and the nation. School vouchers have not been proven to be successful and, in fact, take resources from community-based schools.”

Willow Grove member Edwin said “The public schools need all the support they can get, and the Governor’s budget would not only cut that support by reducing general education funding, but would also weaken it by spending money on school vouchers.”

Let’s start at the beginning. Under a three year system, low-income students could receive a voucher for up to $9,000 to go a different school. The first myth is that the families would get to choose where to send their children with the vouchers. In fact, no school would be mandated to accept a single voucher student. Since $9,000 won’t get you into many of the private schools in the state (Philadelphia Friends is over $30,000 each year), families will be left with a handful of parochial schools. Often times, these schools are not equipped to handle children with learning disabilities or who require special services. The choice is left up to the schools which families are left waiting for an acceptance letter.

The second myth is that vouchers actually improve education. In study after study, in city after city, voucher students do not test any better than their public school counterparts. The Pennsylvania Senators supporting vouchers managed to get around this annoying fact by not requiring that students who accept vouchers take state tests to determine if the system is working. Nope, let’s just take away money from public schools and hope for the best.

Last, while the politicians are saying that this plan won’t cost tax-payers a thing, they are merely passing on the buck to the local municipalities. Because the vast majority of students will stay in the public schools (most likely, when the plan is fully implemented, most of the vouchers will go to low-income students already enrolled in parochial schools), the local districts will have to make up for the loss of state funding somehow. They will do this through raising property and school taxes.

We need to rethink our priorities in Pennsylvania. If we want to have a future, a backbone for our nation, than public education needs to be on top.