In a July 27 opinion piece, Senator Tracy Pennycuick, R-24, “set the record straight” on PASS (Pennsylvania Award for Student Success). To qualify for this scholarship program, families must live in a household 250% or below the federal poverty level ($75K for a family of four) and attend a public school performing in the lowest 15% of achievement.
Nowhere does she clarify whether all qualifying applicants are guaranteed to receive this scholarship, or if there is a screening process once the criteria are met.
To be clear, PASS is a school voucher program with a new name. But don’t be fooled, this program still rewards wealthy owners and operators of private schools and still fails to hold them accountable for student outcome, expenditures, and hiring.
Legislators and private school owners are using sleight of hand to delude us. These are our tax dollars — pure and simple. Sure, funds are not being pulled from school districts which largely rely on our real estate taxes. But no matter what rabbit they pull out of that hat, these are our tax dollars funding private and religious schools.
Honestly, I don’t want my tax dollars funding Christian, Catholic, Jewish, or any other religious school. Give these parents a tax credit to attend their school of choice but keep your hands off my tax dollars that are dedicated to supporting public education.
Senator Pennycuick cites some important data detailing the dismal academic performance of Pennsylvania students “trapped in a school system that has failed them.” She never tells us what will happen to the students that don’t meet the established criteria of income and school performance to qualify for this scholarship program.
Unsurprisingly she also neglects to mention how our students with significant disabilities will be addressed. What safeguards are in place to protect these students? Federal law mandates students with disabilities attending public education are provided protection and services. Private schools do not have that same requirement.
Here’s a suggestion for our legislators: instead of throwing more of our tax dollars at owners/operators of private schools, let’s work to house, feed and protect our children; make our schools safe from asbestos, mold, peeling lead paint; provide updated books and adequate learning supplies; give them clean water to drink; and compensate our teachers to attract talent.
Give all our students an environment in which they can focus on learning, not just surviving.
I do agree with Senator Pennycuick that every child in Pennsylvania deserves a high-quality education to equip them to succeed in the world that lies before them as they transition into adulthood.
Giving tax dollars to private schools without little to no accountability is just not the way to achieve that goal.
Ada Miller lives in West Rockhill.