Predictable Knee Jerk Reaction to Governor’s Voucher Plan
Hot on the heels of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association’s attack on Governor Corbett’s plan to improve educational opportunities for poor students in the state’s weakest performing districts comes a negative editorial in a Pittsburgh newspaper. The op-ed demonstrates the thinking of those who remain stubbornly committed to the status quo public monopoly schools regardless of massive failures in many districts across the state.
Naturally, if the word voucher appears in the proposal, defenders of decades of failure in public schools and believers in the notion that more money translates into better education will reflexively attack the plan on the grounds that schools will be deprived of money and only a few students will be able to take advantage of the vouchers.
In their latest screed, editorialists at the paper begin by claiming the Governor’s plan runs counter to the constitutional principle of a free and public education. Presumably, the editorial is referring to Pennsylvania’s Constitution. What the Constitution actually says in Article III, Section 14 is, “The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of the Commonwealth.”
The constitutional requirement of “thorough and efficient” does not include a mandate that taxpayers be forced to pour vast amounts of money endlessly into schools where fewer than 30 percent of students perform at grade level. Dedicated defenders of the state’s public schools have long since abandoned any commitment to a thorough and efficient system of education in favor of a monopoly system wherein decisions and performance are dictated by educrats and the teachers union. But they need to bear in mind there is nothing in the constitutional requirement of a “public education” that prevents the state from seeking other approaches to providing support for educating the Commonwealth’s children. The opposition to any approach other than a total monopoly system is outdated, misguided and counterproductive.
The evidence for the colossal failure and massive spending in many public districts is right under the noses of the editorial writer. In Pittsburgh, per student outlays exceed $20,000 per year and yet the academic performance in most of the City’s high schools is worse than abysmal. And according to state data, Duquesne schools spent $17,490 per student in the 2009-2010 school year and had academic achievement at the very bottom of Pennsylvania’s school districts and state taxpayers provide the bulk of Duquesne’s funding. The state has tried in vain for ten years to improve performance in that district. The only thing it has refused to do is offer a voucher program.
The editorial argues that using money to provide vouchers will take money out of schools. It will also take students out of academically failing schools and let them choose where they attend school, so why shouldn’t the failing school lose some state funding since they have fewer students?
The argument is then made that the Constitution forbids tax dollars to be used for vouchers at religious schools. That is not what the Constitution says. Article III, Section 15 says, “No money raised for the support of public schools of the Commonwealth shall be appropriated to or used for the support of any sectarian school.” Thus, funds raised for other purposes could presumably be used for vouchers. But more importantly, since the vouchers go to the parent to be used as they see fit for the education of their children, the money is not being appropriated to the school. And even more relevant, there is no possible constitutional proscription against vouchers being used in private, non-religious schools.
In sum, why are some folks so adamantly opposed to efforts to try a new approach that gives parents a choice and students a better opportunity for a good education? Lives are being wasted by the charade called public education in many school districts. Where is the public good in that?