Say No to the Largest Transfer of Taxpayer Money Out of Public Schools in Pennsylvania History | Notice
By Rich Askey
Every June, educators and parents in Pennsylvania find themselves on familiar ground – imploring state lawmakers to increase the funding their public schools desperately need to educate students and meet expenses.
Yet many school districts find themselves doing more with less year after year as they face rising mandatory costs for things like charter school tuition.
So it’s shocking that some Harrisburg lawmakers want to hand billions of taxpayer dollars back to private and religious schools over the next decade – money that will inevitably come at the expense of the state’s public schools, which educate nine out of ten students.
This is all set out in Senate Bill 1, a bill sponsored by State Senator Scott Martin, R-Lancaster.
Among other things, Senator Martin’s bill would give both state tax credit programs for private and religious schools a huge 68 percent funding increase next year and provide increases of 25 percent. percent each year thereafter. Public schools are fortunate to get funding increases in the range of 2-3% each year.
What exactly does this mean in real dollars? Tax breaks for businesses that contribute to private and religious schools would reach nearly $ 1 billion within five years. In 10 years, the costs would reach $ 3 billion.
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Never in all of the June of the past few years have public education advocates even called for a 68% funding increase – let alone secured one. Never have they had the luxury of automatically increasing their funding by 25 percent to count on year after year.
Yet that is exactly what Senator Martin wants for private and religious schools that educate only a small portion of the state’s population.
Equally disturbing, Senate Bill 1 does nothing to help school districts cope with rapidly rising charter tuition fees. In fact, it would make the problem much worse.
Currently, charter school operators must meet certain legal thresholds to open their doors to students. Local school districts are responsible for reviewing their plans and determining whether they have checked all of the legal boxes.
Senate Bill 1 would bypass local school boards altogether, creating a state-level political appointing council to make decisions on future charter school proposals.
Keep in mind that public school districts are responsible for funding charter schools. In 2019-20, districts paid $ 2.2 billion to existing charter school operators statewide. Certainly property taxpayers bear part of this burden.
Now Senator Martin and his friends in Harrisburg want to open the floodgates to who knows how many new charter schools.
Let’s be clear: PSEA supports high quality charter schools and charter cyber schools. We represent more than 1,000 educators and support professionals who teach and serve students in charter schools statewide.
That is why we believe that charter schools and the boards, directors and for-profit management companies that operate some of them must be held accountable.
And with charter school tuition quickly becoming one of the biggest expenses for public schools, these decisions need to be made by local school boards who are charged with protecting their taxpayers’ money – not by another unelected council of people appointed by politicians who may have little or no association with the community.
Together, the tax credit expansion and charter changes of Senator Martin’s Bill could represent the largest transfer of taxpayer money out of public schools in Pennsylvania history – and by little fter the worst attack on public education we have ever seen. Ultimately, it is our students who will suffer.
Let’s do better. Let’s focus on the needs of our students as we recover from this pandemic. We must be attentive to their academic, mental, social and emotional needs, and we must do all we can to close the learning gaps. Let’s make it the subject of this June, rather than cutting the funding our public schools desperately need.
Rich Askey is a Harrisburg music teacher and president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union. He writes from Harrisburg.