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Posts Tagged ‘Pennsylvania’

Forget the victory over the union bosses in Wisconsin. Yes, that was important, but school choice is an ever bigger threat to the left.

Breaking the government education monopoly would reveal the inefficiency and incompetence of government, while simultaneously threatening the power of the National Education Association, which is a major source of money and power for the left.

Even more important, school choice would give poor kids a much better education, thus increasing their ability to achieve the American dream.

Helping poor people lead better lives, though, is not a priority for the left. If people are less dependent on government, they probably are less likely to reflexively support those who want to make government even bigger.

This is why it is good news that the promise of school choice in Pennsylvania (which I wrote about last year) is about to become a reality.

The Wall Street Journal’s excellent editorial page has the key details.

The most promising development is occurring in Pennsylvania, where a state-wide voucher bill supported by new Governor Tom Corbett is moving through the Republican-controlled legislature. Children in the Keystone State’s 144 worst schools—where students scored in the lowest 5% on recent state exams—would be eligible for a voucher. …in 1996, but unions blocked the idea by claiming that lack of spending was the real education problem. Time has proven that wrong again. According to the Commonwealth Foundation, a state think tank, “taxpayer spending on public schools has doubled to $26 billion per year” over the past 15 years. Pennsylvania taxpayers spend more than $13,000 per student, or “$2,000 more than the national average and more than 39 other states.” In some of the worst school districts, per pupil spending approaches $20,000. Yet scores on national tests have been flat for years, with only 40% of Pennsylvania 8th graders at or above proficiency in reading and math. Even state tests, which have lower standards, show that only about half of Pennsylvania 11th graders are proficient in reading and math.

What’s especially encouraging about the developments in Pennsylvania is that some traditionally left-wing folks have realized that it’s time to put the best interests of kids above the interests of the teacher unions. I particularly admire the role of a black state senator.

Mr. Williams, who is black, has taken some heat for his pro-voucher stance from local civil rights groups. “The NAACP nationally is opposed to this and locally is opposed to this, and they call me all sorts of funny names,” he tells us. “But the truth is that a lot of the people in the NAACP don’t acknowledge that they send their own kids to private schools. They’ve left. They’ve moved away.” Several local labor groups in Philadelphia have also broken with the teachers union and endorsed vouchers. “We believe that children from all economic backgrounds deserve a chance for a bright future,” said John Dougherty of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98. “School choice programs will give them that chance.”

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When Democrat and Republican candidates for governor in a large state both endorse school vouchers, that doesn’t necessarily mean genuine educational reform will take place, but it surely is a positive sign. If a state like Pennsylvania breaks the grip of the teacher unions and ends the state school monopoly, the impact would be powerful – and nationwide. The Wall Street Journal opines about the meaning of this development and also take a much-deserved shot at Obama, who is phasing out a school choice program in Washington, DC, because he cares more about appeasing unions than helping poor kids get a good education.

Last month, and to widespread surprise, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Dan Onorato came out in support of school vouchers for underprivileged kids. Mr. Onorato said that education “grants”—he avoided the term vouchers—”would give low-income families in academically distressed communities direct choices about which schools their children should attend.” Mr. Onorato’s Republican opponent, state Attorney General Tom Corbett, is also a strong backer of education choice, which means that come November Pennsylvania voters will get to choose between two candidates who are on record in support of a statewide school voucher program. Mr. Onorato, the Allegheny County Executive, adopted his new position at the urging of state lawmaker Tony Williams, a voucher proponent whom he defeated in a May primary. The speculation is that Mr. Onorato, who trails Mr. Corbett in the polls, is looking to attract financial support from pro-voucher businessmen who backed Mr. Williams in the primary. Mr. Onorato could also be responding to the public education reality in Pennsylvania. On state tests last year, only 56% of 11th graders scored proficient in math, and 65% in reading. In Philadelphia, only 48% of public school students read at grade level and 52% reach the standard in math. Clearly, the status quo isn’t working. The Obama Administration, which is phasing out a popular and successful school voucher program in Washington, D.C., at the insistence of teachers unions, refuses to acknowledge that vouchers can play a role in reforming K-12 education.

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