Parents and Children Vs Politicians and Teacher Unions

Member Group : Guy Ciarrocchi

(This article first appeared in Broad+Liberty)

Who is more important: children or the teachers union?

Like college students cramming for finals, Harrisburg politicians are supposed to pass a budget by June 30. Much of the fighting will be about the needs of students versus the special interests, led by the teachers’ union.

Over 77,000 students in Pennsylvania are happy going to a school their parents chose — a Jewish day school, a parochial school, or Quaker or private school — with scholarship help. Pennsylvania has a tax credit program allowing businesses and taxpayers to donate to scholarship organizations to help children get to a school that works.

Yet over 63,000 thousand other students don’t receive those scholarships — because there’s not enough scholarship money to keep up with the growing demand among poor and middle class families seeking hope for their children. (However, donors want to donate more, if the politicians would let them.) Many students are forced to attend schools that are unsafe or failing their students — some schools with grades where no one is doing grade-level work!

Over 99,000 students are happy going to a charter school that their parents chose — one of 161 in neighborhoods from Erie to South Philly.

Yet, over 30,000 students are stuck on charter school waiting lists because politicians have intentionally capped the enrollment in those schools — and in some communities the school board won’t allow new schools to open.

Over 67,000 students attend cyber charter schools that their parents chose because learning online is how they thrive, where they feel safe, how they can do extra work, how they can have extra time to catch up, or how they learn best in the post-Covid era.

For some students, the glass is half full; for others, it’s half empty. Some kids don’t even have a glass.

Years ago, with bipartisan support in Harrisburg, legislators passed laws to give parents choices and children hope. Yet as the numbers also show, there are thousands of parents still looking for a better school — to keep their kids safe, reinforce the values they teach at home, or make sure that they are actually learning.

Taxpayers focused on empowering children; respecting parents; or wanting students to succeed would want to increase options — and to offer hope. But education is funded and regulated by politicians, too many of whom are dependent on and loyal to special interests. So all too often, the focus isn’t on students’ success.

At the very moment when progress is being made, when parents are seeking more choices, there are actually Pennsylvania politicians seeking to reduce choices.

They want parents to have less choice. These politicians would trap students in failing public schools — worse, forcing some students to leave their cyber or parochial school. They would be forced to go to a public school that we know doesn’t work — or didn’t work for them.

Because some politicians arrogantly think they know best and others are so weak they prefer campaign donations to students getting diplomas, there’s a real danger facing Pennsylvania students and parents.

Here’s what the “special interest caucus” in Harrisburg would impose, if they have the votes. (And they are dangerously close.)

House Bill 1422 would reduce funding for cyber schools by an average of 42 percent, according to House Republican Appropriations Committee analysts. You don’t have to be an accountant or school principal to know that a 42 percent cut could mean that schools would close, cancel services, or have to dismiss students.

And, remember, cyber students cost taxpayers only 70 percent of what it costs to educate a student in a traditional public school. So, students would be forced out of a school they love, plus taxpayers would have to fork over more money. Cyber schools are the fastest growing part of education. Makes one wonder why some politicians would want to harm their students?

House Bill 2063 takes aim at the scholarship organizations offering support to over 77,000 students. The sponsors want to change the qualifying rules — making it impossible for many two-income families to qualify. Plus, they want to increase the red tape and restrictions on the staff running these scholarship organizations.

If the sponsors of HB 2063 get their way, thousands of students would have to leave the schools they love and maybe some of the scholarship organizations would have to go out of business. Makes one wonder why some politicians would want to harm these students?

Next up, enrollment caps on charter schools. Stunningly, having artificially limited the enrollment of charter schools in Philadelphia, Allentown and across our state — locking out thousands of students — politicians now want to impose enrollment caps on cyber charter schools.

Imagine being a family in Philadelphia. Your local public school might be unsafe — as the school’s own data proves — or the test scores might be low—as the school’s own data proves. You can’t go to a nearby charter school because there’s a waiting list, and you can’t afford to go to private or parochial school because the scholarship money ran out. These parents may want to try a cyber school this fall — another avenue to find safety and success.

Now, imagine being told that the cyber school you want to choose isn’t allowed to accept you. Why? Because politicians decided to arbitrarily cap enrollment.

As a result, you may be forced to send your child back to a school that isn’t working for her — and in some of the worst cases, a school whose own data shows it isn’t working for most students.

Fortunately, there are politicians who see things differently. They’re focused on kids and not special interests. They want parents to have more options, not fewer. And everyone who is a taxpayer, employer, or who has genuine compassion should be rooting for them.

State Senators Tony Williams (of Philadelphia and Delaware Counties) and Judy Ward (from the Altoona area) each have bills to create a statewide scholarship program to rescue our poorest families who are trapped in the worst public schools. Many supporters call these “Lifeline scholarships.”  Any wonder why?

And, thankfully, dozens more are pushing back and defending scholarship organizations, charter schools and cyber schools.

Pennsylvania is at a political crossroads. It’s an academic, economic, and moral crossroads.

Whether you have children in school or not, this is our fight.

My colleague at the Commonwealth Foundation, Dave Hardy — our Distinguished Senior Fellow — often states that most families have “school choice:” they pay for a safe and better school, they move to a better neighborhood or school district, or they use “connections” (or a false address) to get their child into a better school. Hardy should know, after a career in education and being recognized as a national leader, especially in urban education, he was asked to take over Girard College — a school for underserved students, students in need of support and an education.

Hardy asks us to think: “What about the other children? The students whose parents can’t afford taxes and tuition or to move, or who didn’t get their number pulled at the charter school lottery?”

Mr. Hardy, allow me to add to that: why would anyone want to take away options for any families — especially those families?!

This Pennsylvania budget is really about one question for Governor Shapiro and the state legislators: Who are you for, the children looking for hope, or the special interests?

Guy Ciarrocchi is a Senior Fellow with the Commonwealth Foundation. He writes for Broad + Liberty and RealClear Pennsylvania. Follow Guy at @PaSuburbsGuy