The Scotland School, the State Budget, and School Choice

The Morning Call has a story on Governor Rendell’s proposal to close down the Scotland School for Veterans Children, asking if it is a “pawn in the budget game”.  The quick answer is yes … and no.

Certainly the proposal to close down the school is a “Washington Monument Ploy” (as is the proposal to close down the Governors Schools of Excellence) – cutting a popular program, even though it is small cost in the $29 billion state budget, to make the budget seem austere, or to justify a tax increase.

On the other hand, the cost of the school ($45,000 per pupil, more than triple the per-pupil spending statewide), the 1.5 to 1 student-staff ratio, and the fact that very few students served are the children of active-duty military.  The school is, as Rep. Ron Waters, largely a vehicle for students to escape the Philadelphia school district, and all its problems.

That said, there are better, and more cost effective, ways to serve these students:

  • Transition the school to a state-wide charter school – drawing funding as other charter schools across the state do
  • Transition the school to a military charter, working with the Department of Defense – schools such as this typically operate near military bases, but one which serves students statewide is certainly a possibility
  • Expand Pennsylvania’s existing Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) to include a provision for scholarships for children of active-duty military/veterans
  • Create a state-wide scholarship program for military families – the American Legislative Exchange Council has model legislation for this type of program.