Well. It sounds like the media and the educational establishment interpreted Gov. Tom Corbett’s inaugural address the same way I did. Since his inauguration, there has been a bunch of coverage—see Amy Worden and Dan Hardy’s Philadelphia Inquirer story, Brian Wallace’s Lancaster Intelligencer Journal piece, and Scott Detrow’s blog post—of expanding choice, the crucial “C” word the Governor used, in education in Pennsylvania. Each bit of press reveals more of the establishment’s highly alarmed state.
In the Inquirer, for instance, Lawrence A. Feinberg, a school board member from Delaware County, makes a claim so bizarre that it must be underlain by incredible panic: “There is no evidence that religious or private schools are going to do a better job with this student population and there is no way of finding out.” Actually, as we’ve pointed out before, there’s an easy way of finding out. It’s called reading the 18 studies that show gains in academic achievement by voucher recipients.
The establishment’s rhetoric gets even more fiery in the Intelligencer Journal, in which Richard Caplan, a school board president from Lancaster, uses the term “mind-boggling” to describe the logic behind expanding choice. He complains that on “the one hand, [legislators are] giving schools money, and on the other they’re taking it away.” Along the same lines, Brenda Becker, a superintendent in a different district, expresses her fear that (in the reporter’s words) greater school choice will result in “even more public dollars going to private education.” Pennsylvania School Boards Association official Timothy Allwein expresses a similar concern on Detrow’s blog.
But what’s truly mind-boggling here is not the possibility that Keystone State policymakers will allow parents to stop sending their kids and some (not even all) of their tax dollars to schools that aren’t giving them the results they expect. It is the fact that so many of the adults quoted in these stories are fuming to reporters about issues that have nothing to do with the purpose of the schools they oversee—educating kids—but rather about these adults’ own comfort.
It’s worth asking the question: Why are the establishment’s arguments immediately leaping to issues like not getting as much money as they’d like to pay teachers and utility bills (two examples cited by the PSBA official)? Why not brag about the great results they’re getting in their core mission of teaching kids?
After all, our public schools don’t exist to pay teachers or utility bills. They exist to educate the next generation. If they were doing that excellently, the Governor would not have used that “C” word on Tuesday—and their apologists’ arguments would surely revolve around students’ success, not their own self interest. Pennsylvania’s leaders should dismiss their overheated rhetoric about the latter, and hold them accountable for the former.