To the Editor:
For years, the legislature has bamboozled voters with a simple ploy. They tell you that they haven't raised taxes, then they send mandates they won't pay for down to local school boards that are forced to raise property taxes to pay for them. Even worse, legislators then turn around and blame school boards for the problem of high property taxes. The truth is, because of this ploy, districts like now get less than 20 percent of their budgets from the state, and local taxpayers are stuck for over 80 percent of the cost, when it used to be a 50-50 split.
Now that taxpayer righteous anger about property taxes is making that ploy unusable, the legislature is trying a new one, vouchers. Claiming to be a solution for low-performing schools, the proposed vouchers will send public tax money to private and religious schools that supposedly have some miracle 'cure' for students from schools, primarily in low-income urban districts, that don't perform well on state-mandated PSSA tests. While it starts out supposedly for only low income parents, many voucher supporters want the program expanded to all families, as 'school choice.'
Along with not telling anyone HOW simply moving students to another school while poverty, lack of parental support, and crime-ridden neighborhoods still bedevil those students, the voucher proponents are busy making sure that there will be no way for the public and taxpayers to find out whether or not their tax dollars are being wisely spent.
Legislators are promising voucher supporters that there will be no government oversight or regulations on their use of voucher money. Voucher schools will not have to take the PSSA tests like public schools, only 'some assessment'. Voucher money will not be audited by independent or state auditors, like public schools must be. Taxpayers will not be able to go to public meetings to complain or go into private and parochial school offices to inspect the records like they can with public schools. Taxpayers will be buying a pig in a poke and they won't even be able to squeeze the bag.
The legislature's own analysis of the funding for the current voucher bill, SB1, shows that 70-80 percent of the funds will go to students already enrolled in private or parochial schools.
From the start, the constitutionality of such a program is doubtful. So why, with so many glaring faults in such a proposal, would any intelligent legislator support such a program?
Here's what I think: Education is expensive. The Commonwealth Constitution requires the legislature to provide for a 'thorough and efficient' system of public education. If they funded their fair share of the cost, they would have to either change the tax system away from property taxes, or raise rates, or both. They don't think they will be able to keep their cushy state-paid 'jobs' if they raise taxes. They have to do something to shift the blame away from themselves.
So now, they will give us vouchers. Then, down the road, when anyone complains that children aren't receiving a good education, their response will be "Too bad, you (parents) made the WRONG CHOICE." In other words, it will be your problem, not theirs, thank you very much, vote for me, I didn't raise your taxes.
Gotcha again taxpayers! I think it is high time we remember the old saying, "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." Contact your state legislators and let them know you don't want to be fooled again. Say NO to vouchers.
Chuck Ballard is a member of the East Penn School District Board of Directors, but this statement represents only his personal opinion, not that of the East Penn District or Board.