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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.

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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