Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Public school board members for school choice

As children continue to be trapped in failing schools, despite massive increases in taxpayer funding, public school board members in Pennsylvania -- past and present -- are forming "Public School Board Members for School Choice" to support efforts to throw educational lifelines to more children through expanded school choice. According to a news release from the Commonwealth Foundation,

Former School District of Philadelphia Board member Sam Katz said, "Public education reformers have sought more funding, governance changes, standardized testing, centralized curriculum and a host of other changes. Though well intended these have often missed the mark and left another generation stranded in a vastly more complex and technologically sophisticated economy. For the middle class, moving the family, non-public school or even private schools have afforded families options. The less fortunate are left with few choices. It's time to change that now."

Bob Howard, former school board president of the North Allegheny School District in Allegheny County, supports school choice because, "High achieving school districts like the North Allegheny School District have nothing to fear from school choice. Like many parents in my district, I was able to exercise school choice when I moved into one of the highest performing districts in the state. It would now be unconscionable for me to deny the poorest amongst us school choice while protecting failing schools."

Larry Wittig, current school board president of the Tamaqua Area School District in Schuylkill County since 1995, intimately understands the challenges as well as the limitations of public education.

"Competition in public education is never bad. We already win on price-we're free to parents and students-so all we have to do is be as good as our competition, and we will win," said Witting. "Unfortunately, students-through no fault of their own-find themselves in a situation that is academically paralyzing. It's common sense to give those with the greatest need the opportunity to find a better school."

Throughout the coming weeks and months as the legislature considers expanding Pennsylvania's school choice options, "Public School Board Members for School Choice" will provide a voice for those current and past elected officials who support putting the interests of children first and foremost in this school choice debate.

School board members will be signing the following statement:

Public School Board Members for School Choice

WHEREAS, public school board members are elected to provide leadership and stewardship in the operation of public education and the delivery of educational services and to hold the interests of students as their top priority; and

WHEREAS, public school board members have a fiduciary responsibility to taxpayers to ensure the highest possible return on the public's investment in the education of students; and

WHEREAS, classroom teachers play the most critical role in the pursuit of educational performance by their students but are often faced with restrictions and limitations that can hamper their effectiveness ; and

WHEREAS, the Ridge Administration first proposed school vouchers in 1996 for children in under-performing schools as part of a much broader plan for educational reform while opponents of school choice argued that public schools were inadequately funded and that vouchers would further erode funding for public schools; and

WHEREAS, 15 years later, taxpayer spending in the Commonwealth on public education doubled to $26 billion per year to an average of more than $13,000 per student-$2,000 more than the national average and more than 39 other states; and

WHEREAS, public schools continue to perform poorly for the children of low-income families despite funding increases leaving students from low income families trapped and with no options for better educational opportunities; and

WHEREAS, the absence of choice for these parents means our public schools lack the critical incentives that drive continuous quality improvements.

NOW, THEREFORE, a different course of action is necessary to improve our public school system, particularly for low-income children.

THEREFORE, we the undersigned current and past public school board members from across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania support legislative efforts to give parents greater school choices in the education of their children.

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