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Keep Our Money in Pa.’s Public Schools Where it Belongs | Jill Sunday Bartoli | Opinion


by Capital-Star Guest Contributor, Pennsylvania Capital-Star
July 19, 2023

By Jill Sunday Bartoli

Have you wondered why we are paying our state legislators six-figures to say and do the same old things with the same old results?

Follow the money. 

This is working out well for some people at the expense of the rest of us. Forbes reports that the U.S. has more billionaires than any other country in the world, and the US has been No. 1 for 24 years. 

Could this have anything to do with tax cuts that drastically reduced the fair share of taxes that billionaires pay, thanks to former Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. and George W. Bush and Donald Trump?

Follow the privatizing money profiting cyber-charter schools. During the 2021-22 school year “we the people” in Pennsylvania pay out hundreds of millions of dollars to cyber-charter schools. Meanwhile, Stanford University documented low graduation rates—abysmal in cybers-charters — compared with our public schools. 

Million-dollar payouts to CEOs and millions of dollars spent on advertising, have been well documented.  Yet we let our own public schools — our great American experiment in education for all — become constitutionally inequitable and deeply underfunded.

We should have learned from the COVID-19 lockdown that putting kids in front of a computer without a good teacher—like many cyber-charter schools — just doesn’t work. 

We vastly underestimate the value of our great public school teachers.  It is the continual relationship building, thoughtful observation, motivation, meaningful interaction and strategic personal intervention of a good teacher that supports the learning and growth of our children and youth.

I had the opportunity to substitute teach at the Cougar Academy, the Harrisburg School District’s cyber-school, to see the difference that teachers make.  The Cougar Academy is part of the school district, and there are teachers in every classroom to build relationships, motivate, observe and interact.  They know when their students are learning, and they intervene when they are not.

Don’t you find it “coincidental” that some legislators are pushing for more money for further privatizing education with “lifeline scholarships” just at the time when Pennsylvania public schools in low income communities desperately need more equitable funding?

In effect, they are willing to starve the majority of our children and cripple their schools, locking them into a prison of despair, desperation, and segregation. 

This is not new. More than 20 years ago researchers called out the fallacies and dangers of privatizing schools at the expense of the majority of our children and their public schools. 

Cherry-picking a few students for scholarships only makes things worse for the majority of students left behind. What we should be doing is investing in our public schools and our excellent public school teachers so we can re-build opportunities for all of our children.  

Parents have always had choice.  

They don’t need billions of our taxpayer funds to have choices. Because of my personal bias against pressuring children with too much competitiveness and standardized testing,  I sent my children to our neighborhood parochial school for their elementary years. 

Their school, like many others, had scholarships available for low income children.  And neither my choice, nor the available scholarships, demanded tax payer money.

Why are we now stripping public schools to support more private ones?  Once again, follow the money.

The backers of lifeline scholarships and other tax payer funded private school options include the Heritage, Manhattan and Commonwealth Foundations, ALEC, and other big-money groups and very wealthy donors. 

There is a gold mine in this, including donations to legislators, and the push for getting more of it is not new.

In 2011 charter schools in Pennsylvania were reimbursed by the state for 30% of their costs. 

Flash-forward to the present where our public school districts pay 100% of what charters and cybers overcharge for each student.  Hence the crippling of our public schools. And it is not coincidental that the poorest schools often have more Black and Latino students from low income families. There is nothing new here.

This was not the dream for our American public school system. And to make matters worse, we now have Moms for Liberty pushing to take over school boards,  stir up hatred and fear, and ban books. This also is not new, but it is very concerning for our democracy. 

In 1820 the German poet Heinrich Heine said, “This was but a prelude; where books are burnt human beings will be burnt in the end.”

We can do this. And this would be something new!  We can take back  and strengthen our public schools, support our teachers, and help all of our children learn and grow.

One final thought. Eliminating standardized testing would free up billions of dollars for real learning activities, rather than supporting a huge money-making textbook, test, and test-prep corporations that disrespect teachers and have lobbyists and big donors. 

Follow the money to see how this industry has profited at the expense of teachers, authentic student learning, and ultimately our great American experiment in equitable education for all of our children.

Opinion contributor Jill Sunday Bartoli writes from Carlisle, Pa. Her work appears frequently on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page.

Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John Micek for questions: info@penncapital-star.com. Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.