public schools

Educational Tax Credits Are Often a Bait-and-Switch

By Stephen Herzenberg, Third and State

A story in Monday's New York Times explores the use of state tax credit programs to pay for "scholarships" for students who attend private schools. The story suggests that many of the students who receive such scholarships already attend private school and are not low-income.

To the extent that this is true, the political marketing of these programs as alternatives (for a select few students) to public schools in distressed communities is a "bait and switch." Educational tax credits actually siphon taxpayer dollars to subsidize private schools, reducing state revenues available for public schools.

Is this how the scholarships to attend private schools work under Pennsylvania's Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program?

Probably: there is no prohibition on EITC scholarships going to students already attending private schools; middle-class families are eligible to receive scholarships (the income limit for a family of four is $84,000); and there is no evidence that even this income limit is enforced. In fact, Pennsylvania's Act 46 of 2005 prohibits the state from requesting from scholarship organizations any information other than the number and amount of scholarships that they give out. I guess we're just supposed to trust the scholarship organizations to self-enforce the income limit.

NN Meets to Fight the Next Step in Privatizing Education: Vouchers

In the legislative term just ended, Governor Corbett and his right wing clones in the Legislature devastated public education funding. But they have new blows ready in their effort to destroy the future of Pennsylvania’s children. The next step planned is to divert some of the insufficient money that has been left for public education into private hands through vouchers. Neighborhood Networks will be meeting on Tuesday night to discuss the next intended blow and what we can do to ward it off. Susan Gobreski, Exec. Director of Education Voters PA will be with us. We hope you will be too.

The idea that problems with public education can be solved by giving poor parents a voucher to pay for their kids to go to quality private schools is a sham. The legislation that now embodies this idea is Senate Bill 1. If enacted, it would probably cost $1 billion per year, taken directly out of amounts that would otherwise be available to public schools. Yet, according to Education Voters, only 6,500 students would use the vouchers provided for in this bill, about 65% of whom already attend private schools. Low income students will not likely be among the new students getting assistance, since many of them would have to come up with additional money for tuition; the vouchers wouldn’t pay enough.

Furthermore, nothing guarantees that poor, educationally challenged, low income students would ever be admitted to the best schools whether they pay full tuition or not. These schools would retain total discretion to admit whomever they want.

Philadelphia Weekly reports on violence against Asian students in schools

Via Philebrity:

This week’s Philadelphia Weekly has a crushing story about violence heaped on Asian students in many Philadelphia public schools:

Dozens of the alleged incidents are relatively minor—name-calling, verbal threats, petty robberies, random punches in the head while walking down stairwells, and general intimidation. But according to [South Philadelphia High School student Wei] Chen, at least six times last school year those minor incidents escalated into massive rumbles where outnumbered Asian students were pummeled by packs of teens, sending several of the victims to hospitals. Like the day last October when a group of around 30 kids allegedly attacked five Chinese students after school in the Snyder Avenue subway station, one block from school.

And there's this:

Where administrators or the School District intervened, improvements in student relations improved and the violence decreased—the number of overall violence in the district decreased by 17 percent last school year. But the culture of violence against Asian immigrants has existed for so long at some public schools that students almost accept that random beat downs are a part of life . . .

“They don’t even know you,” says Chen, who barely spoke English when he emigrated from China to Philadelphia in January 2007. “They just hit because you’re Asian.”

Let's think about that: At some public schools students almost accept that random beat downs are a part of life.

What it takes to be the next SRC Commissioner

Because you know, (effectively) ousted Commissioner Heidi Ramirez – who was the SRC’s first Latina member, was described as the SRC's "most qualified" member, had a doctorate in education, devoted her professional career to improving urban schools, and asked (gasp!) questions about needs, costs, budgets and performance assessments of programs during public meetings – really just didn’t cut it.

According to the Public School Notebook, this is the kind of Commissioner the state believes the SRC really needs:

  1. Male
  2. Attorney (Cozen O’Connor)
  3. PA finance chair for McCain/Palin 2008
  4. PA Chair Bush/Cheney 2000
  5. former SEPTA board chair (and we know how pleasantly they’ve acted in a school financial crisis)
  6. Education involvement: Two year stint as Chair of Business Leadership Organized for Catholic Schools, 1999-2001.

In a joint announcement with Sen. Pileggi, Gov. Rendell gave this reason for why David Girard-DiCarlo should sit on the District’s top oversight body:

"He is committed to making public education better."

At least someone can define a floor.

Mayor Nutter to Give First Education Policy Address

Mayor Nutter will give his first Education Policy Address tomorrow (Thursday Sept. 11, 6:00 p.m., South Philly High). He has outlined two lofty goals: to cut in half Philadelphia’s 45% drop-out rate within 5-7 years and to double the amount of Philadelphians with four year degrees over the next 5-10 years.

These are great goals that families, parents, students, and community members who are advocating and organizing to improve public education can get behind. It is encouraging to see that the mayor is taking on these issues proactively, setting goals, and working with District officials and other elected officials to assert the role of the city in improving public education.

And with such lofty goals as these, it is clear that the mayor will need the support and therefore the buy-in not only of district leadership and elected officials, but of those most directly effected by the crisis in our public education system, the very same people I mentioned above. There are 167,000 public school students in our city, 55,000 of whom are high school students.

If we can trust that Mayor’s goals are not just about what looks good on his watch but what is truly in the best interests of students, parents, and families, then he and other district officials must recognize that these thousands of students and the families they represent must not merely be acted upon through policies and programs, but must themselves become the change agents who are driving the process. In recognizing this I would like to speak on some of the dynamics that arise when young people organize and advocate on their own behalf around public school issues. The points below reflect conversations I have had with youth leaders speaking candidly about the enormous obstacles that they face making their voices heard to elected officials and other leaders, transforming themselves from victims to change agents, reclaiming their education, and taking a stand for self-determination.

Schools Round-Up: School safety, graduation tests, and a few more out-of touch Inky editorials

A lot of school news in the past few weeks to share:

School Safety
The District’s Safe Schools Advocate has been in the news slamming the District regarding its failures on ensuring safety – or should I say, some strange interpretation of it, since apparently he defines it as the number of students expelled from schools and closing “loopholes” like an appeal process, according to a yet unpublished report.

What he gets right: the climate is declining in schools, and options for getting troubled students help in time is as impossible as ever. Teachers, who have seen the loss of aides, NTAs vice principals, school-home liaisons and a burgeoning class size, ARE dealing with far more abuse with far fewer resources.

What he misses the boat on: his recommendations – expelling kids automatically, closing appeals processes, increasing the number of disciplinary school replacements and hiring a “discipline czar”? Anyone who argues that the solution to complicated issues of violence and climate is throwing out thousands of students onto the streets and closing appeals processes is not only short-sighted but irresponsible.

Open source public education?

In another post on YPP, I discussed how the current model of public education is stuck in the industrial era- how, as Rabbi Stone put it, the best thing which could happen to the Philadelphia public schools would be to go back 50 years. I then said that we need to create a new model of public schooling for the post-industrial, information era. I wondered whether or not Microsoft's High School of the Future in West Philadelphia was such a model, and made an aside about how I would prefer an open source model- an aside which I noted was more than merely a gratuitous jab at Microsoft.

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