Jerry Zahorchak: New school voucher bill would move Pa. in the wrong direction
A voucher bill was passed by the Pennsylvania House and has been waiting for Senate action. Jerry Zahorchak, former secretary of PA Department of Education and superintendent of the Greater Johnstown School District, explains why the bill would be bad news for education in the Keystone State.
magine a school district with $4,000 less to spend per student than its wealthier neighbors with many students who lack supports to reach grade-level. How would you help?
Most people would guarantee that this school district had funds to hire enough teachers and aides to give students who are behind supports. Indeed, nearly two-thirds of Pennsylvania parents in a recent PSBA (Pennsylvania School Boards Association) poll agreed that struggling schools need more resources.
Legislative leaders are instead considering taking taxpayer money away from some of the state’s lowest funded schools and sending it private schools, no strings attached.
The bill, HB 2169, passed the State House in May and could be considered by the state Senate at any time this session. Under the bill, students who live in the attendance zone of public schools with test scores in the bottom
15% statewide would be eligible to receive the average per-student state funding for public schools – around $7,000 per year – as a voucher that can be used for any qualified educational expense, including private school tuition. Funding would come directly from their local school district, and would cost struggling school districts around $140 million annually (PSBA).
Rather than giving students in underfunded schools resources, they would use taxpayer money to fuel the private market. Families would be on their own, forgetting that we all have a stake in making sure that each child learns to cooperate with neighbors of every stripe and become self-supporting, knowledgeable citizens.
Proponents claim these “lifeline scholarships” will help families access quality education they wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford. The real story is not so simple.
Supporters never mention that districts with high academic performance are able to spend around $4,600 more per student on average than low-performing districts. These resource gaps – which will be worse with HB 2169 – closely track local wealth. When we adjust for the fact that poor school districts serve more students in poverty and other students who need more support, the gap between wealthy and poor school districts is more than $7,000 per student.