Friday, June 3, 2011

SB1 voucher bill throws the poor kids under the bus

Vouchers: They're Baaaaaack!
The Nation, Peter Schrag,  
For most of the half-century since economist Milton Friedman first advanced the idea of school vouchers, it's been the ultimate weapon in our educational debates, always ticking just under the surface, never quite going off. But after last November's Republican statehouse victories, the right, sometimes abetted by Democrats and liberals, has brought back vouchers and school privatization with a vengeance.
In combination with new state laws sharply limiting the collective bargaining rights of teachers and other public sector unions, mandating test-based teacher evaluations and expanding charter school programs, the voucher movement poses a serious challenge to the common school itself.

The privatization lobby is very good at repeating their messages over and over to the press; we keep hearing that "vouchers will help poor kids escape struggling schools,"  even though the "poor kids" can now come from middle class families making up to $78,000 per year.  

And the "struggling schools" they are escaping?  They can be already attending nice private or religious schools and live in the wealthiest, highest achieving school districts in the state, and they don't have to have ever set foot in a public school to qualify for a taxpayer funded voucher under the latest version of SB 1.  The Senate's own estimate projects that less than 8% of vouchers would go to students from the 144 "persistently failing schools", and that over 65% of vouchers will go to students already enrolled in private and religious schools.

So much for rescuing the poor kids……..this voucher bill throws them under the bus to privatize public education for all of us.

Another claim we have heard repeated just as often is that there are "gold-standard studies" showing gains in achievement for voucher students.  It looks like that is true if "gold-standard" means that they are (a) funded by voucher proponents and, (b) not subject to any independent peer review.  Here's another one in a long line…..


Review of The Comprehensive Longitudinal Evaluation of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program: Summary of Fourth Year Reports

This review is of The Comprehensive Longitudinal Evaluation of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program: Summary of Fourth Year Reports, published by the School Choice Demonstration Project, University of Arkansas. The report makes eight claims about the effectiveness of the program, most of them positive. On the key issue of achievement of students receiving vouchers, however, the report merely concludes that the program is not harmful. As the report's title suggests, the evidence for all its claims is almost exclusively the researchers' own work, with no reference to other academic literature. Importantly, none of their own referenced documents were peer-reviewed. Even as some of the report's claims are in accord with the broader literature, their appearance in isolation makes for an overly simple evaluation of the MPCP.

Need your voucher fix?
The League of Women Voter's of Haverford Township will be hosting a discussion of taxpayer-funded school vouchers at their annual meeting next Friday, June 10th at 7:30 p.m. in the Linden Commons Building at the Quadrangle, 3300 Darby Road, Haverford.  The meeting is open to the public and there will be an opportunity for members of the audience to ask questions following the speakers' presentations.  The speakers are State Senator Anthony Williams and Haverford School Director Lawrence Feinberg.

Rep. Curt Schroeder introduces sweeping mandate relief for schools
PSBA 6/1/2011
Rep. Curt Schroder (R-Chester County) is introducing legislation that would provide sweeping mandate relief to school districts, enabling them to get out from under onerous government directives and invest their limited resources directly toward student learning.
"In this tough budget year, House Bill 1595 would allow school boards the authority to suspend certain mandates and avoid the need for tax increases at the state or local level," said Schroder.

Privacy of state tax credits guarded

By Brad Bumsted, TRIBUNE-REVIEW Friday, June 3, 2011
HARRISBURG -- Businesses getting tax credits in some state programs remain shielded from public disclosure, but Pennsylvania's fiscal watchdog says taxpayers should know about every dime of the money.  "We should know how much they received," Auditor General Jack Wagner said on Thursday. "These are taxpayers' dollars."
The House bill expanding the Educational Improvement Tax Credit, or EITC, is pending before the state Senate. It would increase income limits and raise the cap on the EITC program from $60 million to $100 million next year, and to $200 million in 2012-13.
Read more: Privacy of state tax credits guarded - Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

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