Enabling Pittsburgh Public Schools’ further failure

Enabling Pittsburgh Public Schools’ further failure

When the Great Federal Government Giveaway of 2021 is all said and done (at least for now, that is), Pittsburgh Public Schools (PPS) will have received $161.2 million in additional money.

As the Post-Gazette reports it, the district received $11.1 million in the first round of coronavirus pandemic-related federal relief. That money was to be used for student and staff computers, personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies. 

It received $50.1 million in the second round of government almsgiving, earmarked to expand its wireless technology infrastructure and assets, improve indoor air quality and increase summer learning programming.

And the lion’s share of a third and supposedly final round of dollars – an astounding $100 million – is expected to be spent on what the P-G says will be instructional materials, professional development and external partnerships that provide support to families and wrap-around services to schools, including trauma informed practices and social-emotional learning.

Here’s hoping auditors do a thorough job when accounting time comes.

For that’s a lot of new scratch for a district that continues to have an extraordinarily high per pupil cost structure and, despite such high costs, continues to have an extraordinarily low record of academic achievement in critical metrics.

And we cringe at the thought of a PPS – with a 2021 budget of well over half-a-billion dollars – being newly emboldened by the feds to continue on its well-worn path of not even mediocrity but of failure.

And, gee, what else might all this new coin bring us?

“Professional development” that is nothing more than high-priced junkets that lead to weak ethics investigations after rationalizations are accepted?

“Social-emotional learning” that, who knows, might be twisted into nothing more than the audacities found in “critical race theory” indoctrination?

Contract awards for products, services and questionable curricula with old buddies that raise eyebrows?

The school district says it will begin an “extensive community engagement process” in June to, as the P-G reports it, help determine how it will use the latest $100 million in federal aid.

Superintendent Anthony Hamlet, a dubious educational role model from the beginning – remember the borrowed phraseology of “his” educational  philosophy? — says the money “provides a distinct opportunity to engage Pittsburgh Public Schools stakeholders as we think big to make decisions that will support our students beyond this year and align to our new graduate profile, developed in partnership with our school community.”

Blather is as blather does.

But will any of the money be used to address one of PPS’ greatest challenges that leads to academic failure (that being absenteeism)?

And what are the district’s plans to fund any new programs once this federal money is exhausted? A tax increase?

Hamlet says it’s “time to move beyond any barrier that hinders getting all voices to the table.”

“I am confident that with the input of the Pittsburgh community, we will develop a plan that puts kids first and sets our students up for success.”

But past being prologue — five-year plan after five-year plan failure, the waste of hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars, administrative malpractice and repeated entreaties of “We need more money!” – we are not encouraged. Nor should parents be.

Throwing evermore money at Pittsburgh Public Schools will only result in one thing: A more expensive and expansive failure.

Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).