One State's Poor Excuse for Funneling Taxpayer Cash to Private Schools

As a retired Pennsylvania teacher, I have nothing but shame here. PA government has sold out hard working teachers in public schools, sweating to raise student achievement, to promote for-profit schools which have NO achievement requirements. In many of the cases cited the schools met their achievement goals and were still gutted of funds so students could switch.

...the rhetoric of failure is not only misleading (and sometimes flat-out wrong), it is having disastrous consequences on our schools.

The latest example of this comes courtesy of Pennsylvania’s recently expanded EITC $150 million corporate tax giveaway.

Pennsylvania has developed a list of 415 “failing schools” and created a voucher-like system allowing students living near them to take public taxpayer money to go to private schools.

But the whole system rests on faulty logic. First, the list of supposedly “low-achieving” schools is deeply flawed. Published at the end of July by the Pennsylvania Department of Education, the list uses results from the 2010-2011 PSSAs (standardized state tests given to all public school students in grades 3 – 8 and 11) to identify the bottom 15% of schools based on reading and math scores. However, as a recent analysis by the Pennsylvania School Board Association shows, a full third of the schools on that list actually reached their student achievement targets set by the state and federal government.

In the 10 counties of Southwest PA, 22 out of the 73 schools listed – 30% – made AYP or were showing progress.

As the Pennsylvania School Board Association points out , “Labeling these schools as low-achieving when they have met the student achievement standards set by the state and federal government functions to create two separate and conflicting measurements for student achievement.”

If the state is really interested in rescuing students from failing schools, why didn’t it include charter schools on that list?

The Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University found that students in every single Pennsylvania cyber charter school performed “significantly worse” in reading and math than their peers in conventional public schools. Shouldn’t the state be rescuing students from these low-achieving charter schools?

The fact that the state just approved four new cyber charters suggests that this isn’t really about saving students from failing schools at all. Indeed, under the new EITC scholarship program, students need never have actually attended a failing school in order to take public money to a private institution. The law is written so that students only have to live in the attendance area for a school on the low-achieving list – they may never have even set foot in the building!

The scholarship organizations have no auditing requirements and almost no reporting requirements (despite the fact that they can take 20% of donations for their own administration), and there is no way for the public to learn if the scholarships actually help students in any way. “In fact,” the Pennsylvania School Board Association explains, “the EITC law prohibits state administrators from requesting any information related to academic achievement, making it impossible to measure the effectiveness of the program.” So students could be attending failing private schools with these scholarships – but since private schools do not have to administer the PSSAs, we would never know. [emphasis mine]


Tags: accountability, achievement tests, attacking public schools, charter schools

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