Sunday, April 17, 2011

Public Schools Beat Charters--Now: The Question of Vouchers

Does outperforming charter schools mean no one should get vouchers?

Posted by: Noël Jones

Ok, I am not positing anything here, I am truly confused, and appreciate comments from anyone who can explain all this to me in a way that makes sense.

There has been much debate about whether or not charter and cyber schools are better options for our children and youth than our public schools systems. An article by Colin McEvoy and Sara Satullo in today's Express-Times reports that public schools in Northampton County have outperformed both charter schools and cyber schools on recent PSSA test scores. Before we get too excited, lets take note that the scores being compared are only the percentage of students at or above proficiency in each subject. At the same time, a debate is also raging in our state government as well as locally as to whether or not our tax money should be taken from the school district in the form of vouchers, to be used to pay for
charter and cyber schools. McEvoy and Satullo report that:

"The findings come at a time when Gov. Tom Corbett's budget proposal expands school choice but eliminates all charter school reimbursement for public schools.
His plans call for money to start following students and he supports creating a taxpayer-funded voucher system targeted at low-income students in the state's worst-performing schools."
"Supporters say the bill will help families get their children out of struggling or unsafe public schools, although detractors contend it will be very costly for taxpayers while doing little, if anything, to improve the quality of public education or student test scores in Pennsylvania."
Jack Silva, Assistant Superintendent at the Bethlehem Area School District, argues that he has '"nothing against charter schools and believes they provide good options for some kids, "but I don't think the cost of it should come at the public school's expense."'
I'm very confused by this whole voucher thing. I have trouble with this notion of "the public school's expense." The public schools have no money of their own--they have only taxpayers' money--our money. But if each student costs over $10,000 to educate, where is this taxpayer money coming from? Each parent in the district is certainly not putting in $10,000 per child each year in taxes. I assume this is a combination of our taxes on local property owners, as well as state and federal income tax money set aside for the state and federal Departments of Education. These are my questions for discussion:
a) is this system financially just in the first place?
b) has this system been successful in giving our youth a great education? (Reference the film, Waiting for Superman)
c) if it is a just system and is working, then why shouldn't taxpaying parents be able to take out their child's share out and use it toward the school of their choice, if they are unhappy with the quality of public schools? (which doesn't really make sense, because it defeats the notion that the public system is working)
d) if our public schools are currently outperforming charter and cyber schools, parents will likely want to keep their kids in the public school system, but if the charter and cyber schools do better, they will want to send their children elsewhere. It's seems like a health bit of competition to me, no? 
But I still don't understand where the money is coming from. Do we really have so many retired and employed people without children in the school system in our economy that are paying taxes into the pot that there is enough excess that every child can have over $10,000 spent on them? It doesn't seem sustainable to me...what am I missing in this picture?


noel jones said...

on the other hand, if we are taxed specifically to fund PUBLIC schools, then why should public funds go to schools that are not part of the public school system?

one of the fundamental questions here is: what are our taxes INTENDED to do? provide each and every school-age child an equal amount of funding toward a good education (regardless where their parents decide to send them), or to fund just the public school system?

(this question, of course, is posed within the realm of the concept of taxing everyone on local, state and federal levels for education being ok/necessary in the first place--not everyone feels that way--especially when it comes to federal taxes for the Dept. of Ed, which is clearly failing our youth miserably)

in New York--at least when i lived there--you got a 50% tax rebate if you did not have children in the school system. if tax money is being extracted to pay for vouchers, then one has to ask, why not let everyone keep their portion of the tax money allotted for education and let them pay for their own kids schooling with it, instead of creating all the bureaucracy and administrative costs involved in voucher system, so that they can then use a voucher to pay for it?

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David Caines said...

I'm curious if you happen to know whether or not charter school teachers are union?
As I think it ties into greater questions that I've been researching lately.
Also does anyone know if charter and public schools are held to the same curriculum standard?
I'm also curious how people feel about the home school style lack of socialization that attends things like cyber schools?

David Caines said...

Well, since no one else has chimed in. A big subject for me lately has been the American education system and trying to get realistic numbers regarding those who seek to destroy it in it's entirety.
The groups are many and varied ranging from the core extreme Christian right who make up the extreme center of the Republican party to Muslim and other extremists who are hard to find exact numbers on. At minimum, we're looking at about 6 % of the American populace, about 18 million people nation wide, not counting those who hold supporting views for other reasons. It's a small number granted but these groups are very vocal and hold a power greater than their numbers might suggest.
The argument seeming to be that they (white, Black and religious separatists) do not want their children forced to interact with those of other races or religious belief systems and A) should not be forced to suffer it, B) should not be forced to pay for it and C) believe that these forced interactions should not be forced on any persons and are at the heart of America's problems.
Their key concept is to be rid of the American public school system period . And when I read things such as this I must say that I wonder how much those groups have helped in leading to the creation of Charter and other such schools in the first place, and whether or not such actions are meant to become self fulfilling?
If more money is taken out of the already failing public school systems, those systems will most likely only fail faster leading to more impetus to be rid of them and so on.
I'm curious if we have such folks around here who are willing to openly discuss their reasons for seeking the end of public schooling and the greater questions involved.

Anonymous said...

Hi David,

I can answer a few questions from your first post based on conversations i've had with cyber-charter students and employees.

The teachers are not union. At least one cyber offers a cash opt-out on medical insurance and has paid bonuses to teachers up to 2x a year. (non-profit?)

The curriculum is standards driven and mostly computer based. They do plan and require social activities/field trips throughout the year.

I know one person who has over 50 "students" in the cyber class. Estimating $9000 per student paid out of public coffers to run 1 such class = $450,000. These 50 students come from a catchment area and are all of a similar grade. So, imagining 1 such grade at each level K-12 with similar enrollment from the local area = $5,850,000 from local schools to run 13 "classes". (Keep in mind for IEP students $18K is paid to the cybers, not $9K.)

I am not saying that cybers are not a good alternative for some students (especially those that are homebound), but the funding formula is in desperate need of an overhaul.
- Jen

noel jones said...

Jen--so you're saying that charters are considered nonprofits, and yet are getting the full average allotment of tax dollars for each student when those students are not using the facilities that the money is extracted to pay for, i.e., the buildings and other facilities? That's weird--and yes, flawed--no matter where anyone falls in the charter vs. public school argument.

cyberparent said...

my kids are in a cyber school and their PSSA scores were in the top few percentile (I forget the exact score); I know my kids are doing great there. would they do just as well in public school? I don't know. my kids aren't a public/cyber experiment so I can't compare.
social interaction? with the amount of drugs and promiscuity and pregnancy among the youth in Easton I opt out, thankyouverymuch.
the public school system, with its bloated teachers unions and out of touch redundant overpaid administration is a dinosaur that needs to go away.

maria said...

Thanks for the answers- I can tell you that should we end up having children, there is no way in hell I would put them into the Easton School system. Yet the school system where I grew up was excellent.
So I'm of mixed opinion about chucking the system entirely. My schools far more than my parents, helped mold the man I am today - trust me that's a good thing, but a bad school system will do the same for others, and clearly has.
Thanks for the answers about the union thing, I was pretty sure they were non-union as the nation seems to have turned against the idea. The layers of levels where anti-union activity has been taking place since Regan are so many and varied that they are almost impossible to get a handle on, but I'll add this to the pile.
I'll admit, that I'd be prepared to go as far as closing the Easton school system and busing kids off to more effective school systems, but at least for the moment I'm not prepared to chuck the school system idea.