(This is the text of my letter of this title in the Daily Local News, 4/1/17; I would link there except that letters no longer appear at DLN online, but only in the print paper and at epaper.)
While he was the 156th district’s representative in Harrisburg, I don’t recall writing to contradict Dan Truitt. I found his explanations of issues clear and I appreciated his respectful demeanor toward voters, including those who may not often have agreed with him.
But his letter “Legislator should explain vote” (Daily Local, March 21) is a different matter. He really has no call to accuse his successor in office, Carolyn Comitta, of “caving in” to teacher unions or dissing “the poorest children.” Representative Comitta will have plenty of time to, as Mr. Truitt requests, explain her vote on education vouchers. As a former public school teacher and the holder of a Masters in Education from West Chester University, she does know something about education; and as a former Borough Council member and until last week Mayor, she also knows something also about government.
Education vouchers, in their current PA incarnation as EITC and OSTC, are already siphoning off funds from the state budget. The current bill, HB 250, would raise the annual maximum from $175,000,000 to $250,000,000. This is not peanuts.
I do give Mr. Truitt credit for being so forthright as to give as his example religious schools, which are in fact the chief recipients of funds from the programs in question. EITC and OSTC conduct an end run around our state constitution, which states:
1) “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.”
2) “No money raised for the support of the public schools of the Commonwealth shall be appropriated to or used for the support of any sectarian school.”
3) “No appropriation shall be made to any charitable or educational institution not under the absolute control of the Commonwealth, other than normal schools established by law for the professional training of teachers for the public schools of the State, except by a vote of two-thirds of all the members elected to each House.”
To me, that is pretty clear: the state is responsible for educating the state’s children; and state money should not go to religious institutions, or to any institution at all without a 2/3 vote of both chambers.
But here is the end run-or actually, 3 of them:
1) One can continually chip away at the state’s educational
obligation while still claiming that as long as there are some functional public schools in the state, the state is doing its duty.
2) The EITC and OSTC funds aren’t technically raised to support public schools, because the money doesn’t reach the state budget, but is taken out as tax credits to the participating businesses; so, they cut into educational money before being designated for education.
3) The EITC and OSTC aren’t technically appropriations but the rerouting of tax money before the appropriations phase.
Whatever the lawyers and judges may say, I think those are pretty feeble excuses to spend public money in constitutionally dubious ways. And so is the excuse that the public funds go to parents, who then turn them over to the schools.
“Choice” is the justification for taxpayers financing charter schools alongside public schools. Charter schools, although they are not governed by elected school boards and can be profit-making enterprises, at least are subject to some public oversight such as requirements to report test scores and to have a certain level of teacher training; and charters are not allowed to represent any religion’s point of view.
Meanwhile, a US bill, HR 610, would allow taxpayer funds to go not only to private schools but also for home-schooling.
How much choice with public money is too much? I think we are already over the line. As should be perfectly clear, private schools are not public, so why should they receive public financing?