Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Letter to the General Assembly May 3, 2011: Less than 8% of vouchers expected to go to “poor kids in 144 failing schools”

The following letter is being faxed to all members of the General Assembly today, along with the Students First mailer and Education Law Center Analysis of SB1 that follow:

Students First of Pennsylvania, funded by three wealthy Philadelphia Main Liners, has already spent over $6 million in support of school vouchers and SB1.

But $6 million apparently wasn’t enough for SB1 to pass the Senate.  So now they are spending more money on a PR campaign targeted at anyone who disagrees with them - anyone who opposes the bill that they figure they have already bought and paid for.  A sample is attached to this letter.

Let’s be clear – by any stretch of the imagination, SB1 is no longer a bill about poor kids trapped in violent or failing schools.  It is a bill that will use public money to pay tuition for middle class children who are already attending private or parochial schools.  See the attached analysis of the SB1 Fiscal Note prepared by the Education Law Center – less than 8% of all vouchers are expected to go to kids from those 144 “failing schools”.

In the latest version of the bill, the “poor kids” have now become those with family incomes up to $78.255.  And the “violent, persistently failing schools”?  They have become any private or parochial school that the “poor” kids are already attending, even if they have never set foot in a public school and even if they live in the best performing school districts in the state.  SB 1 will create a two tiered school system of public and private schools with private schools choosing the children they want to educate using public money. 

Public schools are required to accept and retain all students regardless of family income, race, religion, English language proficiency, disability status, behavioral issues or academic performance; that’s why they are called public schools and that’s why they receive public funds.

We’ve all been sold an expensive bill of goods on this voucher bill that will end up costing Pennsylvania taxpayers a billion dollars.  SB1 is actually a bill that would simply give away taxpayer money to private and parochial schools with zero accountability for academic results and zero accountability for how those tax dollars are spent.

On the attached mailer Students First asked voters to call their Senator and tell him not to let political contributions sway his vote.   Call Students First - Joel Greenberg, Jaffrey Yass, and Arthur Dantchick - at the Susquehanna Investment Group at 610-617-2600.  Tell them to stop smearing our public servants, and tell them that if they actually want to help kids they should spend their money on kids – not on contributions to politicians and advertising agency fees.


Keystone State Education Coalition Co-Chairs:
Lawrence A. Feinberg, School District of Haverford Township, Delaware County
Shauna D’Alessandro, West Jefferson Hills School District, Allegheny County
Lynn Foltz, Wilmington Area School District, Lawrence County
Mark B. Miller, Centennial School District, Bucks County


Here is a copy of a Students First mailer that was sent first class mail to every residence in Senator Leach's district.  A similar mailing targeted Senator Greenleaf.


Official Data on Senate Bill 1 Anticipates Most Vouchers 
Going To Students Already Enrolled in 
Private and Religious Schools

Few Students in Failing Schools Expected to Use Voucher

The Education Law Center has analyzed an official Senate report detailing the cost of tuition vouchers for private and religious schools under Senate Bill 1.
The “Fiscal Note” for SB 1 anticipates only a small percent of the vouchers will be used by students currently attending the 144 public schools identified as failing by the bill. The Senate Appropriations Committee officially attached the Fiscal Note to the bill on April 11, revealing that most of the vouchers are expected to go students already attending private and religious schools.
The Education Law Center has closely examined the data in the SB 1 Fiscal Note, which for the first time allows the public to see official details about the number of students expected to utilize vouchers and the cost of the voucher program:
• The cost of vouchers for tuition at private and religious schools will be more than $1 billion in total over the first four years.
• Only 7.6% of all vouchers will go to students from the 144 “worst” public schools.
• 65.3% of all vouchers will go to students already enrolled in private and religious schools.
• Only 9% of eligible students from the 144 “worst” public schools will be able to gain admission to a private or religious school and actually use their voucher. The annual cost will be $50 million.
• 100% of eligible students currently enrolled in private and religious schools will be able to use their voucher dollars, since they are already admitted. The annual cost will be $225 million.
Senate Democrats say that the Fiscal Note still underestimates these costs and that even fewer students at failing public schools will gain admission to a private or religious school in order to actually use the vouchers.
The battle over vouchers in Pennsylvania has focused for months on claims repeatedly made by voucher supporters that Senate Bill 1 will not be costly and will help students get out of failing public schools.
Opponents of SB 1 have disagreed, emphasizing that the bill will cost more than $1 billion and transfer most of these tax dollars to private and religious schools for children who are not enrolled in a failing public school. The April 11 Fiscal Note shows that SB 1 opponents were correct.
“SB 1 is not really about school choice for families trapped in failing public schools,” said Baruch Kintisch of the Education Law Center. “Instead, the bill is an expensive gift of taxpayer dollars to private and religious schools for the tuition of students who are already enrolled in those schools.”
Joseph Bard of the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools said, “In this time of billion dollar budget deficits, our state cannot afford a massive giveaway program to private and religious schools. Public money should be used to improve public schools, not to pay for the tuition of students currently attending private and religious schools.”
The full Senate is expected to vote on SB 1 in the next week or two. Negotiations are going on behind the scenes to win the votes of senators who are on the fence. The latest changes being made to the bill divert even more of the voucher program away from needy students in struggling schools. For example, the Senate Appropriations Committee amended SB 1 to create a new kind of voucher for middle class families.
“The first priority of state policy for education should always be the best interest of disadvantaged students and their public schools, not political favors for private interests,” said Kintisch.

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