A new K-12 system will not be free

Posted by By at 26 April, at 10 : 55 AM Print

A billboard (pictured) near the south-central Pa. Borough of Gettysburg advertises “A FREE Public School,” omitting mention of $10,000-a-student  tuition paid by the students’  home school district. (Photo by John Messeder)

If we want to shut down Pennsylvania’s tax-funded public schools system, and replace it with a for-profit commercial version, we certainly are going about it the right way.

Step One: Make taxpayers believe they are paying for substandard schools, using standardized testing criteria virtually impossible to meet, then blame teachers for the failure.

Step Two: Make taxpayers believe they can have a better education, for free.

Step Three: Take tax money from the “failing” public schools and give it to new “free” public schools.

A few years ago I was writing about a school district in another state. The district had borrowed lots of money for repairs and renovations to existing facilities, and reached a state-established “debt ceiling.”

But in Maine, that meant that rather than prohibiting the district borrowing more money, the state would simply make the full payments on any additional debt. That was convenient, since the district was contemplating building a new elementary school.

“Now is the time, when it won’t cost us anything,” the superintendent of Maine School Administrative District 9 told the school board. He conveniently skipped over the part where the state would make the loan payments with state-collected income tax rather than locally levied real estate taxes.

“Most people don’t make that connection,” the superintendent said when he was asked about the funding.

Clearly, he had attended the same government funding classes as those who have placed billboards near Gettysburg proclaiming “A FREE Public School – Gettysburg Montessori Charter School.”

I know some of the people who run the Montessori school. Its principles are well-founded, and kids who attend there are likely, for a variety of reasons, to do well. So, too, students in the district’s other charter school, a dual-immersion (Spanish and English) elementary school.

But neither school is free.

In 2009-2010, the Gettysburg Area School District paid $529,892 for charter and cyber school tuitions, including special education students.

The district’s 2011-2012 budget includes $1,409,729 for the same purposes.

“The increases from the 09/10 budgets are virtually all related to Vida & Montessori charter schools,” GASD Business Manager Brad Hunt said in an email this week, “except for typical annual inflation.”

At a time when the district is considering closing one elementary school because of reduced enrollment, and is under pressure from its taxpayers over money being spent to upgrade its Tech Prep program and possibly its aging middle school – along comes the state Department of Education with an additional expense: the district must pay nearly $10,000 tuition for each of its students attending one of the two charter schools within its boundaries.

The good news? Last year, the state promised to reimburse the district for a portion of the tuition. Indeed, the Gettysburg district has so far received, in bi-monthly payments, $53,301 against the $189,345 it had been “promised” for the 2009-2010 school year.

The bad news? This year Gov. Corbett proposes turning off that funding stream, among others.

Instead of supporting the existing public schools, the governor proposes cutting their funding – overall, Corbett has proposed cuts that will take the Gettysburg district back to the 2004 funding level. He also supports vouchers to allow parents to move their children to non-public schools.

In addition, Act 1 of 2006 limits school districts’ ability to raise taxes to make up for losses of state funding.

Never fear, Corbett says. He has proposed changing state law to allow firing teachers when a district’s state-mandated revenue losses result in no money to pay them.

The newly elected governor is following a national trend. Convince middle class workers the nation’s financial woes are their fault, then turn public sector services over to for-profit organizations.

In the case of our public schools, requirements are heaped upon them to provide services for kids with a wide variety of learning impediments. Schools then are given a testing system which seems to pretend the learning impediments do not exist – that all children learn equally.

And when it turns out they do not, blame the teachers, and especially the teachers unions, for the failure – and shift the money to educational businesses: schools given special charters, and funded with money taken from the “failing” public schools, to provide for the educational needs of kids who very likely would succeed regardless what school they attend.

We have a post-secondary educational system second to none. Unfortunately, students who once came here for a university degree, then stayed here to earn their livings with it, now are going home to help create new middle class populations with wealth to buy cars and build interstate highway systems and drive up the price of gasoline.

If we are to compete in that world, we need to re-think what we want from our K-12 system. Replacing it with a new system may be part of the answer.

But let’s be honest about our goals, and let’s don’t pretend they are free.

(Readers may contact John Messeder at john@JohnMesseder.com.)

This post was written by:
- who has written 169 posts for Rock The Capital
John Messeder is an award winning journalist with more than 35 years experience writing about education, environment and local government issues. He has lived in Maine, Florida, California and Alaska, and, by temporary turns, numerous places in between. John also is an accomplished photographer, and avid hiker, conservationist, oral history buff, and author of several books he has not yet got 'round to writing. He lives in Adams County, Pa., just over a hill from Gettysburg, with his wife and Golden Retriever. He may be contacted at john@JohnMesseder.com - Email jmesseder

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