Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Guest Blog: PA NAACP Speaks Out Against School Voucher Bill

This afternoon, Representative Mike Sturla (D), Chairman of the House Democratic Policy Committee, held a hearing on SB 1, the bill creating school vouchers in Pennsylvania. While the bill is still in the Senate, the House is starting to look at the impact of this bill on public education in Pennsylvania. Thus the hearing today. One of the speakers at this hearing in Philadelphia was Dr. Joan Duvall-Flynn, the Chair of the Education Committee for the Pennsylvania State Conference of NAACP. The NAACP, as I stated in yesterday’s blog, also opposes school vouchers. I asked Dr. Duvall-Flynn if I could post her testimony on the PA NOW blog; she agreed. PA NOW gives a shout out to her well-rounded and thoughtful presentation on the problems of creating a school voucher program in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania State Conference of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
FEBRUARY 22, 2011


The PA State Conference of NAACP Branches appreciates this opportunity to submit remarks to the House Democratic Policy Committee today as we focus on education. It is good for the citizens of the Commonwealth to have this rigorous discussion on “Opportunity Grants” as we call the current vouchers proposal presented in Senate Bill 1 . In truth, this proposed legislation presents us with an important opportunity to reaffirm the fundamental need for universal public education, to evaluate the condition of that system, and to diagnose its needs.

The traditional public school classroom has, since its inception, been the most effective approach to equip the nation’s young for their futures as well to prepare citizens for the overall welfare of our society. It is a place in our society organized with the intent that persons from all cultures and conditions will share time and space with a common purpose; and where children learn to accept and trust others who may differ from them by condition, by ethnicity, or by social standing.

It is in the traditional public school classroom, under the oversight and protection of the State, that the human capacity of our young is best developed to the benefit of a democratic, nonsectarian society.

Currently, state assessment outcomes demonstrate that a number of school districts across the Commonwealth are struggling. We know that these strains have led to this hearing today to discuss policy around using public money to pay tuitions to private and to sectarian schools so that some children may be evacuated from a number of traditional public schools that today are in travail.

In truth, what brings us here today are the deeply rooted inequalities and injustices that exist in the public educational system of Pennsylvania and the policy decisions that give birth to those inequities. That is why, from the perspective of the PA NAACP, this current drive to legislate tuition vouchers is a timely and beneficial event. The push for Senate Bill 1 in the Pennsylvania State Assembly of 2011 makes the inequities in education in Pennsylvania clearly visible and easily understandable and brings them to the table for discussion.

Our specific reactions to this proposed legislation are in the Addendum. We wish to use this public forum to first address the needs of children that are being used to drive the legislation; then to cite our reactions to specific sections of SB 1 seriatim if time allows. We will post this testimony on the PA NAACP State Conference web site for those who wish a copy.

The Problem:

Many stakeholders find it very difficult to acknowledge, to face, and to address the race and socio-economic status inequities within our public schools here in the Pennsylvania. As is made apparent by the introduction of Senate Bill 1, it is much easier to devise escape routes for the children whose parents have the financial means or the political sophistication or support of state policy to abandon troubled schools than it is to correct the inequities that prevail.

Senate Bill 1, in its proposal for tuition vouchers, is an attempt to create an additional evacuation strategy from universal public education and seeks to do so under the obfuscation that forcing the general population to pay for private school education for a select group is a civil rights issue. It allows for and supports the denial that democracy demands our continuous care, concern, attention and commitment.

Government is instituted for the equal protection and benefit of all. Thomas Jefferson, as he proposed our current system, believed that education should be under the control of the government, free from religious biases, and available to all people irrespective of their status in society (Thomas Jefferson: 6th Annual Message, 1806).

If the General Assembly believes the condition of the public education system has reached such a state of crisis that it must rescue children from schools because they are in physical danger and because they cannot be educated, then it is not only wrong governmental policy to deny the children who would be left behind in those same schools equal protection of the law; while at the same time, under cover of law, relegating them to permanent second class citizenship; but it is also immoral, reprehensible, and illegal.

For that reason, there is an essential question that must drive policy in the Pennsylvania State Assembly.

Is the solution to the obvious inequities and injustices in the universal public education system of Pennsylvania to ration out chances to vacate the traditional public school classroom; or should the legislature move forward to solutions that yield more equity and justice within the system where most of Pennsylvania’s children go to be educated?

We are all aware of the enormous injections of money into the war against universal public education. The billions of tax payer dollars budgeted to fund the public system has been sufficient motivation to drive this campaign. Not only in Pennsylvania, but across the nation, achievement data derived from State Assessment Systems has been used to make the case that “public education is ‘failing’ ” and that it needs to be dismantled and that education needs to be put into private hands.

In some points of view, traditional public school teachers have been demonized. Nine out of ten of these teachers are women of varying ages. They are mostly white and middle class. Many of them are single heads of household. They joined the profession to help children learn and grow. Yet, the propaganda would have us believe that these daughters, mothers, sisters, aunts and friends arise daily and in hordes, go into schools to ignore their obligations; thus causing students to not score as proficient or advanced on state assessments. However, it goes unmentioned that those who teach at a Charter School or a private school for lower pay, few if any benefits, and no job protections are just as likely to see the same results on student assessments as do teachers in traditional public schools.

In some points of view, unions have been demonized and used as scapegoats. Unions do not hire teachers. They do not supervise teachers. They do not evaluate teachers. School district administrators and supervisors are responsible for these functions. Unions can not circumvent the agreements negotiated with and sanctioned by the school boards elected by tax payers and to whom tax payers have open access. Yet the propaganda would have us believe that unions are the reason many students are not scoring as proficient or advanced on state assessments.

The propaganda machine has demonstrated its tactics at their best while in general, the masses have no voice. The push is to privatize education, lift it from the protective hands of the state, dismantle collective bargaining units, and allow market systems to drive improvement. However, factually, loud and demanding voices notwithstanding, there is no evidence to substantiate the fallacy that market place competition improves educational outcomes.

In the United States we have learned some hard lessons about free markets. History has taught us the dangers of ferocious greed and how the market place will consume, abuse and devourer any commercial target. That is why we have protective agencies to watch over our foods and medicines. That is why a number of Charter Schools are under investigation even today. That is why we know to not turn our children into commodities for competition and purchase – even to great benefactors – who may be looking for their next software market.

You may have noticed that none of the noisome and frantic manipulations designed to access the state coffers and make profit off children as a commodity have addressed honestly the basic question of why some of our children are not learning well in school. As well, there is nothing in SB1, the vouchers proposal, that attempts to identify or correct the conditions that actually burden our children in the classrooms of Pennsylvania’s traditional public schools.

The task of the statesman, at its best, is to find the right balance for the benefit of all the people: to inform, to educate, to advocate. The issue of “choice” is not the civil rights issue here. Parents are not entitled to a check from the state with which to go shopping for their personal preferences.

The General Assembly has the responsibility to provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education.

The notion of a thorough education has been structured in the United States through normative boundaries since the 1700s and has consistently provided for instruction in language arts, mathematics, science and social studies as a core curriculum. To that, based on the changes in and needs of society, are added enhancements. Hence the State Board of Education periodically sets and reviews a scope and sequence of instruction that identifies what students in the public schools of Pennsylvania should know and be able to do in their areas of study at given levels in preparation to meet their own goals and for the general benefit of society. Thus the state insures a thorough education.

It is in the term efficient that we meet the challenge faced here today and in Senate Bill 1. If we mean the satisfactory and economical use of tax payer dollars; or even if we mean performing or functioning in the best possible manner with the least waste of time and effort; then the PA NAACP holds that the vouchers sections of SB1 fail on both connotations as demonstrated in the Addendum.

PA NAACP: Theory

The right to an education belongs to the student. This is the civil rights issue involved in our present discussion. In Walczak v. Florida Union Free School District in 1998 the Court asserts that children are not entitled to the best education that money can buy; they are only entitled to an appropriate education.

In Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, the Court asserts that: Today, education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments. Compulsory school attendance laws and the great expenditures for education both demonstrate our recognition of the importance of education to our democratic society. It is required in the performance of our most basic public responsibilities, even service in the armed forces. It is the very foundation of good citizenship. Today it is a principal instrument in awakening the child to cultural values, in preparing him for later professional training, and in helping him to adjust normally to his environment. In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education. Such an opportunity, where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.

The free public education available to many students in Pennsylvania today is not “appropriate”, nor is it available to all on equal terms. It is clear that unless the traditional system of universal public education is stabilized in Pennsylvania, more and more children will be separated from the promise of America and left to live in ignorance, in poverty and with disease.

The improvement, corrective action, and restructuring measures embedded in No Child Left Behind policy was intended to get schools back on track to meet State standards, not to dismantle universal public education (U.S. Dept. of Education, 2002). In the same spirit, the intent of the policy of the Pennsylvania State Assembly must be to address the inequities and injustices in the universal public education system and to correct them in such a way as to get schools back on track.

The Necessary Action:

It is simply just not possible to inequitably distribute teacher quality and track students into or out of programs, like AP or special education, and reasonably expect to achieve equity in achievement or even to achieve progress toward equitable achievement, as is now required in all states (Skria, L. et. al. 2004).

There are causal variables that result in inequity and injustice in Pennsylvania classrooms.

Variable: Teacher Quality Equity

Variable: Programmatic Equity

Variable: Achievement Equity

(Skria, L. et. al. (February 2004))

There are policies and processes that can address these variables that result in inequity and injustice in Pennsylvania classrooms and which will improve student outcomes.

PA NAACP refers the House Democratic Policy Committee to The Pennsylvania State Conference of NAACP Branches Agenda for Education in Pennsylvania (2010). The following list summarizes that agenda.

  1. The state must support, through regulation and through funding, strong early childhood education and equity in the provision of instruction, instructional supports and resources.
  2. Language proficiency evaluations must be performed for all students when they enter a school district, restrictive barriers must be removed from access to vocational education programs, and alternative forms of entrance assessments for accelerated and gifted classes must be available for students seeking access to such programs.
  3. Expanded school services that provide education advocates, mentors, service-learning projects, on-site access to health care and on-site access to mental health professionals must be available where needed and adequately staffed and funded.
  4. The social isolation of Pennsylvania’s children must not be perpetuated by law. Consistent with Title VI, Local Education Agencies should not increase school based poverty concentration and racial isolation; nor should state or federal funds be used to create new racially concentrated or high poverty schools.
  5. The eradication of economic inequality is a human rights issue. Withholding the high school diploma from students who have satisfactorily completed a school district course of study exacerbates this inequality. Regulations requiring the withholding of the high school diploma from students who have satisfactorily completed a school district’s course of study must be repealed.
  6. All local education agencies receiving public funds must review discipline records to assess for racial disparities in discipline. Mandated zero tolerance policies must end. Harsh, denigrating language must be removed from legislation concerning the education of children (Flynn, J. (2010)).
  7. Beyond monitoring test scores to measure for AYP or to evaluate improvement in pupil learning:  
  • Charter schools must be monitored for and assessed on contributions to the field through innovations that are shared with other public schools, and which improve professional practice,
  • Charter schools must be monitored for and assessed on the development of new professional opportunities for teachers,
  • Charter schools must be monitored for and assessed on contributions to the variety of educational programs available in the public system,
  • Charter schools must be monitored for and assessed on contributions to the field in the way of innovative and replicable improvements to the accountability systems,
  • Charter schools must be monitored for and assessed on a quantitative atmosphere of flexibility and innovativeness that supersedes that of non-charter, district schools, and
  • Charter schools must be monitored for and assessed on compliance with all laws governing diversity of population.
Not only does PA NAACP call for policy that addresses the inequities and injustices that impact student performance on accountability tests, our young people are crying out for help. For example, Tamara Anderson writing for Examiner.com recently posted the extract below:

Homelessness, aging out of foster care and teen pregnancy are very seldom mentioned when discussions and debates arise about the state of public education. Community organizations and school districts need to work together and create grassroots community based schools. Places that provide medical support, mental health providers, and active partnerships with local businesses for job readiness or professional certificates. http://www.examiner.com/education-in-philadelphia/homelessness-teen-pregnancy-and-foster-care#ixzz1EdGRqiyF.

As well, there are student organizations such as Youth United for Change who have published statistics concerning the drop out crisis and the chaos caused by Zero Tolerance policies. These young people have taken to YouTube with their pleas for help.

SB1 does not address the pressing issues facing education in Pennsylvania today. Pennsylvanians need comprehensive reforms that address the actual needs and conditions of our rural and urban regions. We need reforms based on proven strategies such as the Equity Audits demonstrated in the article by Skria et. al and listed in our references. We need reforms such as called for in the PA NAACP Agenda and listed above.

PA NAACP’s specific concerns with Senate Bill one are attached. Thank you for this opportunity.

FEBRUARY 22, 2011

PA NAACP Concerns with Senate Bill 1 as Statute

SB1 seeks a solution to the struggles of students as they attempt to meet state assessment system measures for proficiency or advanced proficiency. The legislative solution put forth in SB 1 is to create an evacuation strategy for students as opposed to meeting the legislative obligation to create a thorough education and efficient system of education.

In instances when it has spoken on the issue, the Court has found that it is the civil right of each child to have a “free and appropriate public education” The intention of the Court was to guarantee that each child have access to education which is free, which is appropriate for the child, and which is public. While specifically focused on special education, the decision provides a rational framework from which we can draw reasonable assumptions about what we should provide all children.

PA NAACP is concerned that Sections 2503 B; 2504 B, 2505 B, 2506 B, 2507 B and 2508 B are designed with intentions that do not meet the FAPE standard of “free” or “public”, and which potentially will not create access to programs which are “appropriate”.

The PA Constitution, Article 3, Section 14. Public School System

The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of the Commonwealth.

Section 2506 B: Amount of Opportunity Scholarship - This section presents questions of efficiency in that –
  1. It decreases the resident school district funds while the local district cost of operation will remain the same
  2. It creates a fund in the State Treasury to pay the cost of a superfluous bureaucracy
  3. It fails to create a substantive formula upon which to base an appropriation amount for 2011 and leaves grants open to potentially 500,000 applications for poor children prekindergarten and up
  4. Section d 2 negates the practicality of the Opportunity Grant in that it pro rates reductions in the grant amount based on the number of applicants
  5. Section f 1, and 2 presupposes that the schools from which Opportunity Grant recipients have fled will not improve –

There is no road back for tax payer funds.

As well, Section 2506 B potentially denies equal opportunities to many receiving schools in that it creates “preference” toward non-public schools that have the resources to provide financial assistance to students.

Section 2507 B: This section creates questions of efficiency in that:

  1. It creates an inefficient payment process with an outdated payment and reimbursement system using checks and mail postage costs; neither of which is necessary and a burden on the public coffers and which creates the possibility for loss of public funds.
  2. It creates an unfunded and costly mandate on already financially overburdened school districts by demanding the creation of forms and notification mailings.
  3. It fails to address the multiple language translation needs of parents in district most immediately and directly effected by the legislation and who meet the eligibility guidelines.

As well, 2507 c and d create an impenetrable system that appears to result in taxation without access to representation.

Section 2508 B: This section creates a question of efficiency in that:

It further weakens the local school district by removing necessary funds.

Section 2509 B: This section creates a question of efficiency in that:

The general practice for research is to pilot major programs on a limited basis to evaluate their effectiveness, to decide on their practicality, and to make internal adjustments prior to disrupting major systems. Given the 500,000 reported children who live in poverty in Pennsylvania, passage of SB 1 could cost taxpayers billions of dollars, including the cost of the study suggested by this section, and yet prove to be impractical and unsustainable.

Section 2512 B: This section creates concerns in its possible impact on the question of a thorough education in that:

It creates a mechanism for districts to deport difficult students into alternative environments, which may not have programs that meet their needs or be to the best advantage of society.

Section 2522 B: This section creates questions of efficiency in that:

Scholarship organizations are not asked to report their total income or identify their affiliations or their mission.

Section 2525 B: This section creates policy that may have a disparate impact on universal public education. By the way it has proportioned tax credits, it shows preference through tax credits for organizations that fund scholarships and bias against organizations that fund educational improvement organizations.

Testimony and Research from PA State Conference of NAACP Branches
Joan Duvall-Flynn: State Education Committee

J. Whyatt Mondesire
President: PA State Conference of NAACP Branches


Anderson, Tamara, http://www.examiner.com/education-in-philadelphia/homelessness-teen-pregnancy-and-foster-care#ixzz1EdGRqiyF.

Civil Rights: Brown v. Board of Education I (1954) www.nationalcenter.org/brown.html.

Flynn, Joan D. (2011). The Pennsylvania State Conference of NAACP Branches Agenda for Education in Pennsylvania. http://www.pastatenaacp.org/.

Jefferson, Thomas (1806). 6th Annual Message.

Skria, Linda; Scheurich, James J.;Garcia, Juanita; Nolly, Glenn. (February, 2004).  Education Administration Quarterly, Vol. 40, No. 1. “Equity Audits: A Practical Leadership Tool for Developing Equitable and Excellent Schools."

Walczak v. Florida Union Free School District (1998).


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