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Setting the record straight in PA

The Scranton Times felt the wrath (ok, it was a measured response) of Sen. Jeffrey Piccola (R-PA) over a piece they published last week on the school choice legislation the senator and others pushed for this past session.

Sen. Piccola’s letter wanted to make clear that the voucher portion of the legislation always focused “on rescuing needy students and their families from the failure of the current system and providing them with the choice for a better education…” Not ALL commonwealth students like the editorial pointed out. Additionally, Sen. Piccola address the fact that countless public hearings and committee discussions were devoted to the evaluation process of the bill.

Pennsylvania proved to be a tough school choice nut to crack this session. But in his letter, Sen. Piccola re-ups his commitment to school choice and declares that Gov. Tom Corbett and House leaders are onboard.

Let’s hope that we’ll finally see the cooperation necessary to expand PA choice this fall.

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The Next Charter Battlefront: Suburbs

Over the weekend, the New York Times published an article about the growing fight over charter schools in suburban districts. The story focuses on Milburn, New Jersey where the median family household income is $159,000 (yeah, that’s not a typo).

Charter opponents provide the typical anti-charter school rhetoric – drains money, the local schools are excellent, test scores are high, etc. But they don’t acknowledge that even at the best schools there are students who still struggle. Just because the district is rich, the notion that one size doesn’t fit all isn’t negated.

Additionally, the district superintendent perpetuates the attitude of many other public administrators who believe that education dollars are theirs and not the people at large. He claims that the district is already losing money – never mind that Millburn has the highest property tax in New Jersey with an annual average of $19,000. It should also be noted that many states provide impact aid for districts where there are charters, which translates to charter schools getting less per-pupil funding than the student’s previous district.

This debate is just warming up. We’re going to see more and more of these types of articles because even in good districts not every need is met. Regardless of whether you’re rich or poor, some kids still struggle with school.

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Wait! So competition works?

Indianapolis Public Schools launched a campaign this month going door to door to try and bring back nearly 5,000 dropouts ranging from ages 7 to 23. It’s a positive effort that’s for sure – especially in a district that has a dropout rate of 24.6 percent.

But don’t get too high on that horse just yet.

Why after decades of letting these kids slip through the crack is IPS making an effort to re-engage them? It’s a pretty simple answer – competition.

IPS enrollment has declined by about 8 percent since 2006. Many of these students, at least those that haven’t dropped out, have moved to surrounding township schools where test scores are better or to the various city charter schools. What makes it even more pressing for IPS is that the state just approved a school voucher program for low-income students.

Competition is spurring action. The status quo is being jettisoned in the process and thousands of students lost over the years are getting a second chance.

IPS may be more concerned with incomes than outcomes, but at least the kids are the beneficiaries.

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