Wednesday, March 22, 2006

That's my money too, you know

On the one hand, I think it's pretty funny that Gov. Ed Rendell apparently decided to call the bluff of the right-wing whack jobs on the Upper St. Clair School Board who decided to cut the district's International Baccalaureate program under the guise of fiscal prudence.

On the other hand, school boards are locally elected, and if the residents of Upper St. Clair are unhappy over their decision, they have recourse at the ballot box. (I'm not too thrilled about their lawsuit, either.) Would the governor attempt to intervene in such a manner if, say, the Wilkinsburg School Board voted to cut a popular program? The Duquesne School District has pretty much gutted its curriculum on the way to insolvency, and we've heard nary a peep from the governor.

With or without the IB program, I'm guessing the children of Upper St. Clair continue to receive a better education than many of their peers throughout the county and probably much of the state. The governor's gesture strikes me as pandering to a well-heeled constituency whose votes he probably will sorely need come November.


Blogger Jonathan Barnes said...

Thanks for mentioning this in relation to Duquesne and Wilkinsburg school districts. Clairton is another district that's very much distressed.
Some say it's time for the state to force consolidations of small poor school districts with larger middle-class districts nearby. I don't know, but I think something must be done.
It's sad to check out Wilkinsburg High School and see how fine a building it is (though in need of repair), and to hear old-timers talk about how "preppy" and affluent the borough once was, then see in the next day's newspaper that a girl in Wilkinsburg was shot dead on a Sunday afternoon while taking a shower.
That school district is hurting, and needs real help, fast.
And contrary to popular misconception, there are still several nice middle-class neighborhoods in Wilkinsburg, where all of the families send their kids to private school or parochial school.

10:16 AM

Blogger Sean McDaniel said...

Sure, USC voters can give the school board directors the boot at the ballot box. But who opened the door for them in the first place? Check the roster of elected officials in USC, and you'll find Repulicans in nearly every position. Sounds as though the electorate got what they voted for, including Bush and Santorum.

Is Rendell grandstanding? Do we even need to ask? By the way, speaking of inequities our public education system, North Hills teachers will now have to pay $85(up from $50) a month for health care insurance under their new contracct. And of course their salaries will increase about about $150. So that should lessen the financial hardship. Who's footing that bill? Well, I guess that's my money too, you know.

Our overall public education system is no better structured than the American health care system. Would it work if we funded every school district equally and paid uniform salaries/benefits to all public school teachers statewide...and permitted more affluent families to send their kids to whatever private school we wanted? And one other thing, I'd like see everyone required to pay a school tax, not just property owners. While, I'm thinking about it, the state would mandate what courses the curriculum would require/offer.

12:31 PM

Blogger Jonathan Potts said...

Well, everyone already does pay a school tax--most districts, in addition to property taxes, levy a wage tax. We should think of education--and health care, for that matter--as a social good. We all benefit from it, even when we are not direct consumers.

Several states, of course, do have more equitable funding of education than Pennsylvania, some with better results than us, some with worse. I appreciate the point you are trying to make regarding the health care comparison, but my counter would be that only an ideologue would try to apply the same solution to what are vastly different problems.

I also would submit that for the majority of middle and upper class Americans, the public education system does work well. Its failings are most acute in poor communities, which is why I do favor school vouchers not unlike the one recently invalidated by the Florida Supreme Court:

3:16 PM

Blogger Sean McDaniel said...

The voucher systems sounds like a good idea...but regardless, the openings must be available at the desired private school. And the kid you want to place there has to be able to make the grade. And maybe most important, to make the entire process work, you need a private school or two in the area that can provide a better education than the public schools.

A voucher isn't a free pass to put a student anywhere parents may wish. Vouchers won't do a bit of good if there's no alternative nearby. Just ask somone who lives in McKean County or in the middle of the state, where choices might not exist, or even in a city neighborhood where the closest non-public school could be 30 minutes away. (and just how do all these vouchers kids get to their new schools?)

Not that I have any statistical proof, but my gut feeling is that most of the people clamoring for the voucher system want it so that kids can attend church run schools, whatever the faith.

I still like my idea. Even the playing field for public schools. Make everyone pay into the public educational system as insurance that every kid has the opportunity to attend a school that is the equal of any other public school across the state.

I'd rather pay for a well-educated population than shell out the bucks to ensure that everyone has health insurance. Chances are that someone with a good education isn't going to end up on a street corner selling crack or feeling as though her career peak is pulling down the head cashier position at Giant Eagle when she graduates from high school.

9:25 AM

Blogger Jonathan Potts said...

Uniform funding of public education is by far the best solution. It's just not going to happen in Pennsylvania. Vouchers are an imperfect solution, and it's true that many proponents have ulterior motives. Vouchers are dead in Pa. for now, but I think they have a better long-term chance of becoming reality (slim to none) than an overhaul in the education funding system (none). Too many affluent school districts benefit from the current system to allow it to change. Most states that have overhauled their education funding systmes have done so under state court order, and Pennsylvania courts have rejected claims that our system violates the state constitution.

The test case for the constitutionality of vouchers was Cleveland, in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that as long as the vouchers can be used at any private school, they do not violate the separation of church and state. (In Cleveland this was an issue because Catholic schools were the only ones willing to accept voucher students.) I wrote about the issue in 2001, when I worked at the Trib. I have not revisited it since, so it's possible vouchers have been a bust in Cleveland. (And, as Florida shows, state constitutions are another hurdle.)

Not every school would open its doors to low-income voucher students. Some would. As to how they get to their new schools, I can't speak for other states. But in Pennsylvania, public school districts are required to transport resident children to any private school within 10 miles of the district's borders.

11:27 AM


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