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Legislature Sucker-Punches Voters Again

East Penn School Board member says vouchers are Harrisburg's latest attempt to pull the wool over taxpayers' eyes.

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

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.

optimist December 12, 2011 at 01:12 PM
Agreed Mr. Ballard. A very good analysis of the shell game played by the state when it comes to education funding. The state wants local tax payers to blame school boards while they load on unfunded mandates, cut funds, and now throw vouchers into the mix.
Rob Hamill December 12, 2011 at 05:07 PM
This is the Mr. Ballard that took money from the teacher's union, said that he didn't, then fessed up when he "remembered" that he did accept money from the union. If he lied about this, what else does he lie about? This anti school choice argument is simply a ploy for the union and public bureaucracy to strangle any competition and benefit the union. Can you imagine the costs to us if there were no parochial schools, charter schools, or private schools?? This is the Ballard/union answer. When the costs to educate each student in EP is $15,000/year, it is time to break the union/East Penn School Board majority, and time to break the stranglehold of the bureaucracy. Let freedom ring! Support SB1!
Rob Hamill December 12, 2011 at 05:15 PM
Parochial schools cost much less than half of what public schools cost and produce a better product(IMHO). Mr Ballard does have a very valid point of how the state is passing all kinds of unfunded mandates on to the district. Legislators like to pass rules, and each rule makes simple solutions that much harder. Non public schools are relatively free of these mandates. So a solution would be to put assets in schools that are free of public mandates.
Jane Fretz December 12, 2011 at 05:16 PM
As usual, Mr. Hamill doesn't know what he's talking about. He has spent over 20 years bashing EP school boards with doctored and inaccurate "facts". Move on Robert...stay with storm water runoff...and stop the mouth runoff.
Rob Hamill December 12, 2011 at 05:19 PM
Dear Jane, Could you be more specific? I am always ready to learn from an opponent, if they have anything of value to say. Rob
MS December 12, 2011 at 06:05 PM
As a parent, I think I would want to see what type of student the charter schools are producing before I made a quick judgement against them. Sure, for a private school it's hard for parents to come up with that yearly tuition every year, I've looked into it, it's tough, I guess you could say it's easier to go public school because the school taxes are spread out or dumped in your mortgage payment, almost like you never see it.....if charter schools are costing less to run and still producing a great student, then I'm open to charter schools, but for now, I haven't researched them enough.
truth seeker December 12, 2011 at 06:24 PM
The superintendents' report cited data that showed charter schools performed lower on the 2010-11 Pennsylvania Systems of School Assessment tests than their public school counterparts Public schools, which are required to pay for students in their district who attend charter schools, are losing millions of dollars because the state no longer gives partial reimbursement. Salisbury has lost $500,000, Gross said. http://lowermacungie.patch.com/articles/school-superintendents-unite-against-charter-schools On average, 11.3 percent fewer charter elementary students were proficient in reading than public school students in those districts, and 22.2 percent fewer in math. Similarly, 8.7 percent fewer 11th-grade charter students scored proficient or above in reading and 23.7 percent fewer in math. http://www.mcall.com/news/local/mc-superintendents-charter-school-report-20111202,0,6956.story
MS December 12, 2011 at 08:32 PM
Being hOnest here, can we really trust a report by a public school superintendent who is most likely against charter schools? I'm just asking, are there any independent studies done recently besides those done by our local school superintendent ? I'm not trying to stir the pot, I'm just looking for outside expertise I guess
optimist December 12, 2011 at 09:32 PM
A fair question since these folks would certainly be advocating on behalf of public education. The numbers are accuate and can be checked using the Pennsylvania Deprt. of Education. Some additional socres also available on the District and PDE websites: 2010-2011 PSSA District Results as compared to state: PSSA Math scores proficient and above - East Penn: 83% - State average: 77% PSSA Reading scores proficient and above - East Penn 84% - State average: 73% PSSA Writing scores proficient and above - East Penn: 86.4% - State average: 75% PSSA Science scores proficient and above - East Penn: 70.7% - State average: 60.8% East Penn is currenlty paying 3 million dollars for charter school costs - from School board minutes 11/14 Conclusion: public education PSSA scores are higher than charter school scores on average and East Penn scores are better than the state average.
Thaddeus Dobracki December 12, 2011 at 09:54 PM
@Jane: Hamill presents only one hard fact, and it appears to be correct. I won't comment about his (or your) rhetoric, since I only want to deal with facts. EPSD has a $120 million budget for serving 8,000 students, and both of those numbers are within 1% of true value, without rounding. Correct me if I'm wrong, because I'm a little out of practice with my scientific notation, but I think that divides out to $15,000 per head.
Robert Sentner December 12, 2011 at 10:07 PM
I am lost can some one help me out on this. If East Penn School district, retains 20% of the cost to educate one child and has to send the 80% to a voucher school, how does this impact the public school ??? They retain 20% and don't have to spend the resources to educate the child. What am I missing ??? less teachers, less schools, less school buses...... and keep 20%. ??????
truth seeker December 12, 2011 at 10:12 PM
Some info. about per pupil expenditure from 2010-2011 annual report: EPSD Per Pupil Expenditure - From 2001/02 to 2008/09, the East Penn School District per pupil expenditure grew by 31% from $9,393 to $12,287. When compared to other Lehigh County School Districts, East Penn’s total was the lowest. The other 8 Lehigh County School Districts averaged 49.4% with the high being 72% and 35% being the second lowest.
Chuck Ballard December 12, 2011 at 10:36 PM
1. If you want to see an independent report on PA charter schools, get it at http://credo.stanford.edu/reports/PA%20State%20Report_20110404_FINAL.pdf , and read their apologies for how badly charter schools are doing in PA. (The CREDO organization supports charter schools). 2. The East Penn District does NOT get to 'keep' 20% of the cost to educate one child. We have to send what is called ADM, which is supposed to BE the cost of education minus transportation, building maintenance and cost, and some other items. Face it, we LOSE money to charter schools that are producing results worse than what our district produces. They don't save us ANY money.
Robert Sentner December 12, 2011 at 11:00 PM
Chuck, but EPSD does keep some portion of the money ??? I am not being smart just trying to understand. If EPSD keeps any percentage of the money and does not have to educate, transposrt, etc... how is that loosing money to me that is making money.
JulianS December 12, 2011 at 11:27 PM
Mr. Sentner, I'm on the other side of this issue from Mr. Ballard but he's correct. Gov. Corbett, in his infinite wisdom, eliminated Charter School reimbursement. Makes it a little harder on those of us who are school choice advocates. That said, it costs the district $8k to send a student to a charter school. We spend nearly $13k per student. Kind of speaks for itself.
Robert Sentner December 12, 2011 at 11:33 PM
So that means that EPSD retains $5,000.00 ????
thesilentmajority December 13, 2011 at 03:20 AM
Anyone can bend statistical analysis anyway they want to suit their needs. As with any statistical report, such as the CREDO report on charter school performance, there are those critics that point out a possible flaw in the way CREDO handles that analysis. A Statistical Mistake In The CREDO Study of Charter Schools Caroline M. Hoxby October 2009 To be fair there was a debate that ensued after the original report came out: CREDO Hoxby Debate A Serious Statistical Mistake In The CREDO Study of Charter Schools Caroline M. Hoxby September 2009 Fact vs. Fiction: An Analysis of Dr. Hoxby’s Misrepresentation of CREDO’s Research October 2009 A Statistical Mistake In The CREDO Study of Charter Schools Caroline M. Hoxby October 2009 CREDO Finale to Hoxby's Revised Memorandum November 2009 All of these reports can be found at this link at the bottom http://credo.stanford.edu/research-reports.html Hoxby, also a proponent of school choice, has also done research papers on educational choice and has also been criticized of her statistical analysis. Information everyone should know before looking at any of CREDO’s research and reports or any statistical research reports for that matter. Let everyone know all the facts before coming to conclusions.
LoMac Res December 13, 2011 at 12:00 PM
Big story in today's New York Times panning cyber charters: "Nearly 60 percent of its students are behind grade level in math. Nearly 50 percent trail in reading. A third do not graduate on time. And hundreds of children, from kindergartners to seniors, withdraw within months after they enroll. By Wall Street standards, though, Agora is a remarkable success that has helped enrich K12 Inc., the publicly traded company that manages the school. And the entire enterprise is paid for by taxpayers."... "...a portrait emerges of a company that tries to squeeze profits from public school dollars by raising enrollment, increasing teacher workload and lowering standards." http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/13/education/online-schools-score-better-on-wall-street-than-in-classrooms.html?hp
srodham69 December 13, 2011 at 02:08 PM
Well, isn't this a "blast from the past?" Mr. Hamill. One must wonder what has happened to free you up again to bash your school district.
truth seeker December 13, 2011 at 02:40 PM
I think having choice can be a good thing. A summary of why this particular choice initiative is wrong for East Penn taxpayers: 1) Charter schools use tax money and are not held accountable. 2) Charter school test scores are far below East Penn Scores. 3) East Penn taxpayers are funding these schools at the cost of $3 million. 4) The state eliminated its charter school reimbursement yet has the nerve to ask us to increase the local burden to fund this initiative. Why don't they fund it? If the state likes more choice shouldn't they choose to fund it?
agnes gackenbach December 13, 2011 at 05:12 PM
May I wish you all a Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year. It's all I have left of 86 years of good American living. Funded education or the Hard Knocks of Educating the young has it's own price to pay. Thankfully, you still have a choice.
Thaddeus Dobracki December 14, 2011 at 09:59 PM
@truth seeker: My goodness! I'll take your word about the old data that you present. It's a 22% increase (7% annualized) from the $12,287 you cite for 2008-09 to the $15,000 for 2011-2012. My raw data is from the current year's (2011-12) budget from the EPSD's website. Where is your's from?
truth seeker December 15, 2011 at 01:21 AM
Mr. Dobracki: Got it off the school district website. Look for the 2010-2011 annual report.
Thaddeus Dobracki December 15, 2011 at 03:30 PM
@truthseeker - Thanks for reference. Now that we've confirmed the data, it's shocking to see that the EPSD budget has increased 22% on a per capita basis in the last 3 years, or 7% per year! For the current budget year, both the budget and the recent bond POS show $120,319,470 / 8,011 students = $15,019 per capita. Bond documents also show $101,627,939 / 8,041 = $12,639 per capita for 08-09 and $66,479,183 / 6,859 = $9,692 per capita for 01-02, a little higher than in the annual report you cite. (by about $300 or 3%). Not sure what they are excluding there, but that's neither here nor there. Using just the bond POS numbers to be consistent, instead of the lower annual report numbers, the increase would still be more than 18% over the last 3 years (instead of the 22%). Finally, I'm not too worried about rehashing this apparent discrepancy in the ancient numbers or the percentage increase, since the number today ($15,019) is the only one that really matters looking forward.

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