(From "Governing" web site)
Editorial Round-Up: School Vouchers and Improving Schools
Dylan Scott | December 8, 2011
Legislatures in Ohio and Pennsylvania are considering new legislation to provide school vouchers to families in their states. In Pennsylvania, the House is considering legislation that would establish a voucher program for the first time. Families of four earning up to $29,000 with one student or more attending one of the state's failing schools would be eligible for a $7,000 to pay for tuition at a private school, according to the Delaware County (Pa.) Times. Families of four that make up to $41,300 in annual income could collect a $5,250 voucher.
Its western neighbor, Ohio, is considering an expansion of its existing voucher program. A bill proposed in the state House would allow families earning up to $95,000 to qualify for a voucher of $2,313 to $4,626 to attend a private school, according to the Plain Dealer in Cleveland. Even families residing in areas with high performing public schools could apply; the program as it is currently run is restricted to those attending failing schools, the newspaper reports.
The Patriot-News in Harrisburg offered some suggestions in its Dec. 7 editorial about how the current legislation in its state could be improved. First, the newspaper said: the House should remove a provision that would expand the voucher program after seven years -- the edit board says the focus should be on "students who are in the worse-case scenarios" for now. Second, ensure that voucher recipients could also use their vouchers at not just private and charter schools, but at different public school as well. Finally, require private schools that enroll voucher students to take the state exams as a means of ensuring accountability for the taxpayer dollars that are being spent.
"Vouchers are not another Band-Aid; they are a true game changer," the newspaper asserted. "If the legislation is done correctly, a student can potentially transfer from a school that is not achieving to one that is."
Meanwhile, in Ohio, the Plain Dealer warned on Dec. 5 that the voucher expansion bill under consideration by its state legislature was a "mistake." The current voucher program, which supplies state funding for students from low-income families attending poorly performing schools, is "critical," the Plain Dealer said. But the bill that is being weighed by the state legislature would "gouge holes in the budgets of public schools that are already on the ropes," the newspaper claimed.
Public schools could lose thousands of dollars for each student that departs, the Plain Dealer asserted, while there are no mechanisms in the present bill to hold those private schools that receive their funding accountable. "Public schools are likely to continue to educate most children," the newspaper concluded. Supporters of the legislation "should not make it harder for successful schools to do the job."
Newspapers elsewhere also weighed in on education proposals being put forth in their states and communities.
The Tuscaloosa News in Alabama voiced its support for a proposal by the city's superintendent that would implement a yearlong school year for struggling schools. While acknowledging that such a plan "demands that students, teachers and parents adapt to a dramatic change," the newspaper argued in its Dec. 7 editorial that it is the kind of radical change needed to reinvigorate underachieving schools.
The News in particular praised the plan as being more than a "half measure." Now, it is up to the school board to be receptive to new ideas and the superintendent to make the case for such a change to the board and the public, the newspaper stressed.
In the world of higher education, tuition hikes have become an increasingly common method for colleges and universities to deal with pending budget shortfalls. The University of North Carolina and North Carolina State University are two of the latest institutions to resort to increases, according to the Shelby Star in Cleveland County, N.C. The newspaper wrote in its Dec. 5 editorial that parents and students should know that some of the new money would go toward salary raises for professors. The Star wondered why the schools couldn't minimize the impact on students by forgoing those raises for its staff or looking for other revenue sources, warning that the state "runs the risk of pricing its own students out of a college education."
"By serving their faculties before their students, colleges lose the focus of their missions," the Star argued. "They should put student welfare at the top of their priority lists by cutting fluff, raising private funding, finding new revenue streams and tightening their belts like other government-sponsored programs."
The Chicago Sun-Times pointed to new evidence that emphasized the importance of a quality education for a student's long-term success. A study conducted in Illinois recently found that high school dropouts are less likely to hold a job, more likely to be in prison and they will ultimately earn less money in their lifetimes.
The city has taken some encouraging steps to aid its high school dropout population, theSun-Times wrote in its Dec. 6 editorial. One step was establishing a network of alternative schools that allow 5,000 dropouts each year to pursue a high school diploma. A new state law permits the city to open five more of those charter schools in the coming year, an opportunity that the city should be sure to take advantage of, given that study's findings, the newspaper argued.
"With government facing record deficits, it's a tough time to ask to potentially spend more," the Sun-Times acknowledged. But "the long-term costs of dropouts are large, real and often irrevocable."