Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Questions about vouchers your legislator should be asking (and that citizens should be asking their legislators)

From PSBA: Questions about vouchers your legislator should be asking
(and that citizens should be asking their legislators)

1. Senate Bill 1 says the commonwealth will pay the costs of each student’s first year of voucher attendance at private school; and estimated $50 million the first year, $100 million in the second year, and an unknown amount in the third and later years. Where is that money going to come from? New taxes?

2. Where will the new money come from to pay the costs of voucher students already enrolled in parochial and other private schools? Since they are not leaving a public school, how do their vouchers reduce the public school’s costs?

3. When voucher students leave a public school, how will that reduce costs if they don’t leave in groups of 25 or more from the same school and grade?

4. Why do they say that “the money follows the child” when it’s been nearly 20 years since basic education subsidies were influenced by enrollments?

5. Can Pennsylvania taxpayers afford this?

6. Since people without school-age children also pay school taxes, why is it unfair for families with children in private schools to do the same thing, when they have the choice to take advantage of their public schools? Doesn’t Pennsylvania Constitution ask that we all contribute to the support of a thorough and efficient system of public education system?

7. What about families with many children whose multiple vouchers might add up to many times what they pay in taxes? Should there be a proportionate reduction?

8. How can there ever be genuine “competition” between a school that can pick and choose the students it wants to enroll, and a school that has a legal duty to educate all children, including the ones the private schools don’t want?

9. How can there be genuine competition between schools that have to shoulder numerous unfunded mandates and schools that are free from those constraints?

10. Will the parochial and other private schools still be able to deny admission to voucher students who are cognitively or physically disabled?

11. If they admit them at all, will parochial and other private schools be required to provide accommodations and related services to students with physical disabilities, and ensure that a program designed to provide meaningful educational benefit is available to students with cognitive disabilities?

12. Will the parochial and other private schools still be able to deny admission to voucher students who have poor academic records or a history of behavioral problems?

13. Since most parochial and other private school students do not take the PSSA, graduation tests or the same other tests public schools do, how will parents be able to evaluate where best to use a voucher for their student? Will the same data we publish about public schools be available for the private schools accepting voucher students? If not, why not?

14. There seems to be an assumption that parochial and other private schools can do a better job, even with students from the worst socio-economic backgrounds. Have there been solid, peer-reviewed studies that substantiate that, or identify what it is that we think private schools do better or differently?

15. Instead of vouchers, why not just do what it takes to make it possible for public schools to follow the same approaches that voucher advocates think make private schools more successful?

16. Will voucher students have to take the same standardized tests to measure their progress as public school students? If not, how will the success of a voucher program be measured to see if the tax dollars spent are actually having a positive effect?

17. If there are institutional obstacles to the success of public schools, can’t the General Assembly and Governor legislatively remove such obstacles?

18. Should public schools be able to manage their workforce, curriculum and other cost and administrative factors the same way that private schools can?

19. Does the voucher program mean that we are giving up on the failing public schools voucher students will come from? What are we going to do for the students still in those public schools?

20. Usually, when public money is spent, there are many accountability conditions attached, so that the public can determine whether the recipient of the money spent it in the manner intended, and for legitimate public purposes. What fiscal oversight will exist over the expenditure of voucher money? Will there be any way to see the budget or spending records of a non-public school so we can be sure that voucher money is not spent on inappropriate or unlawful things, or that it does not result in personal profit?

21. Should voucher students have to submit to mandatory religious instruction and religious exercises as a condition of attendance at a school accepting voucher students? Should they be permitted to opt out? How will that work if, as many religious schools say, the religious message is infused throughout the curriculum and not just in courses specifically focused on religious instruction?

22. Will voucher schools still be able to dismiss voucher students based on academic failure, or will they have to keep on trying as long as tuition is paid via voucher?

23. Will voucher schools still be able to expel voucher students for misconduct without any hearings or other due process? Should non-public schools have to follow the same due process rules public schools do?

24. Who will have to educate students the non-public schools expel for misconduct, or for academic failure? Will that obligation fall back upon the school district of residence?

25. Since non-public schools do not have to participate in free and reduced school lunch programs, will voucher students have to give that up?

26. Will voucher students have to give up their rights under FERPA to confidentiality of their education records, and the right to review and seek correction of those records?

27. We hear vouchers described as a “civil rights” issue. Weren’t vouchers used by southern states in the 1960s as a strategy to get around forced desegregation and forced busing? Isn’t it true that voucher advocates acknowledge that privatization of education is likely to result in increased segregation?

28. What about the civil rights that voucher students would have to give up in order to use a voucher, such as due-process, confidentiality, free speech, equal protection, disability accommodation and other rights? How does the legislation protect those things?

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