Education is supposed to be the great equalizer. A good education prepares children to be successful, provide for their families, and contribute to society. It’s how we make sure that our children can dream bigger and soar higher than we have. Good schools are essential to achieve the American Dream — and for America to be that “shining city on the hill.”
Pennsylvania Republicans, Democrats, teachers and parents, and even a Commonwealth Court Judge agree: too many children are falling behind. Too many schools aren’t working.
A big part of the solution should be school choice — to empower parents to select their child’s school by providing parents with the resources to make that choice. In other words: “Let the education dollars follow the child.”
Yet, there are those who have another “solution” that they repeat over and over — more money. They even went to court to ask a judge to order that more money be spent.
Pennsylvania already spends more money per child than 40 other states — 56 percent of the budget in Philadelphia’s schools comes from all Pennsylvanians chipping in.
If you weren’t convinced already that money won’t solve the problem or that more taxpayer money might make things worse, the events of the last few weeks have made it crystal clear.
We witnessed a handful of bad decisions that hurt students, parents and taxpayers—and had nothing to do with needing more money. Decisions that were obviously bad from the start to anyone with open eyes, and a good heart.
Masterman High School in Philadelphia has often been regarded as the top school in the state and one of the best in America. To attend, students take entrance exams and submit their transcripts. A few years ago, in the name of “equity” it was decided that some students “who didn’t make the grade” would be chosen by lottery. The result: a train wreck. The gifted students are no longer attending an elite school which they earned. Parents feel cheated. The students attending by lottery often can’t keep up with the work. Teachers are frustrated as they’re unsure of how to teach to this very different student body. Academic quality and test scores are falling.
By the way, that’s not my description. That’s based on Philadelphia Tribune stories (the city’s black-owned newspaper).
Not being happy with ruining the best high school in Pennsylvania, equity-warriors and their enablers on the Philadelphia School Board turned their attention to other “magnet” schools. Recently, the Philadelphia Inquirer published stories about the “unintended consequences” at these schools. Again, new and existing students, teachers and parents are up in arms as chaos is happening.
Rather than thousands of gifted students being lifted-up without having to spend money on private high schools that many if not most of them can’t afford — to soar higher than their parents — thousands are being pulled into mediocrity, or worse.
It gets worse. “Building 21” is a school in northwest Philadelphia that offers a rigorous curriculum. The district recently announced that the school building has asbestos so the building cannot be used. The District decided that “Building 21” students would be relocated to Strawberry Mansion High School. You may ask “how would they fit an entire school within an existing school?” That’s easy, Strawberry Mansion High School is about 75% vacant — almost no one in that community wants to send their children there because it’s so dangerous. So, in the name of “safety,” the District moved students from an asbestos-riddled building into the city’s most dangerous school.
Money cannot fix stupid decisions.
The Philadelphia School District spends over $4 billion a year. As has been the case for many years, the budget grows as the student population shrinks. More money will not fix this mess, or rescue these children.
But, this isn’t a Philadelphia issue alone.
Pennsylvania Auditor General Tim DeFoor — a straight-shooting, actual auditor who approaches his duty without partisanship or fanfare — issued a report showing that at least twelve school districts across Pennsylvania intentionally hid surpluses (“cash reserves”) as a tactic to try to justify raising local property taxes. Local districts include: Abington, Lower Merion, and North Penn in Montgomery County; West Chester Area in Chester County; and Neshaminy in Bucks County. (By the way, there are $11 Billion in cash reserves across Pennsylvania’s districts.)
It’s budget season in Pennsylvania, so the rallies for “more money” are revving up.
When you hear their chants, remember the kids in Philadelphia — the ones who had their education intentionally ruined and the children who were set-up to fail. Remember the children sent into schools that almost no mom wants her child to attend.
When they yell for more money, remember the shell games with tax dollars.
And, when they tell you that you can’t put a price on a child’s future, remember the undeniable facts. Pennsylvania spends more per student than 40 other states, with $11 billion in reserves!
Sorry, not one more dime for the status quo.
There are children who are falling behind. There are children trapped in bad schools or schools that can’t meet their needs. More money is not the issue.
We need to be sure that every child can dream big dreams and reach his/her potential.
Empower parents to make choices. Give students access to good schools. Hold schools accountable.
Only school choice can fix this mess.
Guy Ciarrocchi is a columnist for Broad + Liberty and Real Clear Politics, and policy and strategic communications advisor — and a softball coach in his 24th season. @GuyCiarrocchi