April 13, 2024 4:42 pm
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Educators voice concern PA school voucher programs ‘discriminate’

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Danielle Smith, Public News Service

Pennsylvania’s teachers’ union is voicing concerns that the state’s public school voucher program will negatively affect public education in lower-income families and communities.

The most recent budget proposal would direct an additional $1 billion to K-12 education, affecting more than 1.7 million students, and doesn’t include any specific funding for school voucher programs.

Arthur Steinberg is president of the American Federation of Teachers in Pennsylvania.

He said the Educational Investment Tax Credit programs allow parents to send students to private and religious schools, if they think the public school is underperforming – siphoning funds from public schools.

“They go to schools, which are allowed to – permitted to – discriminate based on any facts, religion, gender, political beliefs, anything they want,” said Steinberg. “There’s no restriction on that money. And there’s no accountability for how it is spent. So, the choice really goes to the schools, not students – so there’s no benefit to them whatsoever.”

Steinberg pointed out that Senate Bill 1057, introduced this month, would fund $300 million in scholarships for students at nonpublic schools – when public schools are underfunded by $5.4 billion, according to a Commonwealth Court ruling.

He added that diverting funds widens gaps, without improving education or equity.

Supporters argue vouchers let children leave under-performing public schools and get a better education at private schools. Test school data does not consistently confirm the argument that voucher students are better educated.

Steinberg said school voucher program do not exclude low-wealth areas, but mostly benefit wealthy people that can afford the private-school tuition.

“It’s really a handout to wealthier individuals that are already in those schools,” said Steinberg. “If you give a family living below the poverty level $7,000 to go to a school where the tuition is $28,000, they can’t afford the difference anyway, so they still can’t go.”

Steinberg emphasized that the Educational Investment Tax Credit program began at $30 million and has ballooned to $550 million – and said 89% is spent on private schools.

But there’s no achievement data available in Pennsylvania to let parents know how well those children are doing compared with other schools.

This article originally appeared on Public News Service and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.