Report: PA track record on private-school vouchers finds still no accountability

Danielle Smith – Keystone State News Service

A new report analyzes Pennsylvania’s existing voucher programs, that divert public funds to private schools.

This comes on the heels of Gov. Josh Shapiro’s plan to create a new voucher program for K-12 students.

Diana Polson – senior policy analyst with the Keystone Research Center – said last year’s Commonwealth Court decision ruled that Pennsylvania’s system of funding public education is unconstitutional, therefore the state doesn’t have a dollar to waste on expanding existing private-school voucher programs or creating a new one.

“The basic-education funding commission estimated the state must pay $5.1 billion over the next seven years to make sure our public schools are funded equitably and adequately,” said Polson. “Meanwhile, our report finds that existing private-school voucher programs are siphoning millions from taxpayers with little to show for it.”

Supporters argue that vouchers let children leave under-performing public schools and get a better education at private schools.

Polson said Pennsylvania’s voucher programs have no “meaningful educational or financial accountability,” so they really have no way of knowing if these programs operate as intended or are beneficial to low-income or moderate-income students.

Polson said the report reveals that the programs have grown, and just this year they will cost the state nearly $500 million.

However, these voucher programs exclude students in rural areas, because there are few if any participating private schools in these regions.

Local public schools remain the primary option for most rural families.

“We also found that private schools receiving these funds are allowed to – and do – routinely discriminate against students for reasons including disabilities, sexual orientation, religious beliefs and more,” said Polson. “These programs are also exclusive. They subsidize the state’s most elite and expensive private schools as well as affluent families.”

Polson said the report reveals that the Independent Fiscal Office estimated that the average EITC program scholarship was $2,314, while the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit was slightly less at around $2,000.

The cost of attending one of the top 25 private schools in Pennsylvania is around $41,000 per year. This means these schools are still out of reach for many low- and moderate-income families.

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