Free at Last

Member Group : Lincoln Institute

What is the most institutionalized system of discrimination in this state? Criminal justice, corrections and prisons or our public schools?

While a case could be made for all three, and they are connected, the public school systems wins hands down as the system that suppresses the hopes and dreams of African Americans and Latinos especially in Pennsylvania’s larger cities.

In a recent speech, Philadelphia’s new District Attorney Seth Williams, Jr. announced a startling statistic: on average only 43% of that city’s school children graduate from high school. Called disaffected by social workers, society calls them drop outs. The economic contrasts are enormous. According to an organization called ‘Youth United for Change’ the average drop out will earn $475,000 over his or her lifetime, the average college graduate $2 million.

A press celebrated BucksCountyHigh School teacher wrote on her blog about how some of her students would be qualified "when the trash trucks were hiring." Why work on a trash truck when selling drugs or robbery pays a lot more money?

That’s the correlation, the child left behind in an inner-city school that drops out before graduation is far more likely to be incarcerated. As a taxpayer would you be more likely to spend $20,000 a year to keep a young person in prison, with little chance of a good job after they get out or $20,000 a year to send them to PennState to become productive citizens? Both cost about the same.

The reasons for the collapse of urban public education in Pennsylvania are myriad. It starts in 1976 with Jimmy Carter’s political payback to the teachers’ unions mandating the nanny-acracy of the Federal Department of Education. The teachers’ unions then turned their political clout on the states getting the right to strike. Creating the unholy alliance in Pennsylvania between those unions and the Pennsylvania State Association of School Directors whose only power is to foster regulations that continue to make their own Boards powerless. Aside from the capital projects of building new, expensive schools, with all of the bureaucratic mandates one is defied to find a School Board in this state that actually has control of more than 10% of its budget.

So how do we break this cycle of confusion? One answer: give parents the right to choose where their children will be educated. Under Pennsylvania Senate Bill 1 launched by Democrat Anthony Williams and Republican Jeff Piccolo parents of children in Pennsylvania’s poorest school districts would get a voucher for up to $9,000 to educate their kids. Governor Corbett has endorsed the concept with details to follow. Liberals like Senator Daylin Leach claim the bill would cross the line between church and state if kids were allowed to go to Christian, Jewish, Muslim or other religious schools with state money. The answer to that is clear: the one God who made us all institutionalized parenting long before the state institutionalized our failed educational bureaucracies.

Someday if parents in Pennsylvania get the right to parent, to send their kids to schools that they choose, participate aggressively in their education, the cry of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. might be realized. Minority children will be on the road to equality in the system. They will be free at last.

Albert Paschall is Senior Fellow at the Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research, a non-profit educational foundation with offices in Harrisburg and King Of Prussia. Somedays is syndicated to leading newspapers and radio stations through out Pennsylvania. [email protected]