LancasterOnline Editorial Board: Accountability needed before spending millions in taxpayer money on private-school tuition vouchers in Pennsylvania
Thanks to a veto by Governor Josh Shapiro, Pennsylvania’s newest voucher program is stopped for the moment. But the GOP is not giving up. In this editorial, the LancasterOnline editorial board asks about accountability (which has not been the strong suit of PA vouchers so far).
Republicans often pontificate about the need for government to spend taxpayer dollars responsibly. But they seem eager to pour vast sums into private education without demanding accountability from private schools.
The Pennsylvania Award for Student Success program’s price tag is lofty. What would we get for that money?
We don’t know. Because Republicans don’t seem interested in building transparency requirements into proposals that boost school choice. Consider the contentious and continuing debate in Harrisburg over enacting stricter accountability standards for cybercharter schools.
This private-school tuition voucher program would be new. But the commonwealth’s existing educational tax credit program serves to illustrate the problem with funneling taxpayer dollars to private education.
The Educational Improvement Tax Credit and the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit provide tax breaks — capped at $280 million annually — to businesses that contribute to nonprofits offering private-school tuition scholarships.
These educational tax credits are championed by school choice supporters as helping students in low-achieving school districts — though only the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit has that specific aim.
Last year, the nonpartisan newsroom Spotlight PA reported that the commonwealth’s educational tax credit program “operates with little accountability and lacks even the most basic data to determine if it’s actually effective.”
Spotlight PA continued: “The failures are not the result of poor oversight but rather an explicit effort by lawmakers to limit the information that is collected about the tax credit program.”
A report from the state’s Independent Fiscal Office found that among the 19 states that operate similar programs, Pennsylvania offered one of the largest tax credits, but collected the least number of data on outcomes.
Additionally, that fiscal watchdog found that the educational tax credit program’s qualifying income limitations for scholarship recipients were higher than all other states with such limitations.
Why the need too keep a voucher program secretive–particularly if your whole pitch is that it will “rescue” students from “failing” schools? How will you know whether or not you’ve “rescued” a handful of students by putting them in a leaky lifeboat?