Bring Choice to Chester-Upland

School Choice ActionChester-Upland, a chronically failing and bankrupt school district of 3,700 students in Delaware County, last week filed a federal suit against the commonwealth to demand a $20.7 million bailout that would carry it through the end of the school year. Teachers have now volunteered to work without pay.

Six of the district’s nine schools rank in Pennsylvania’s bottom 5 percent of failing schools. In the district, only 39 percent of students can do math at grade level, while only 35 percent are proficient in reading on the PSSA. Only half of all students graduate on time.

Gov. Corbett is unsurprisingly reluctant to continue funding a decade of failure and mismanagement. A quick infusion of education dollars may get Chester-Upland through the school year, but flooding the district with more money is no long-term solution, and has been the toothless tactic for years. According to statistics from the Pennsylvania Department of Education, Chester-Upland has racked up $74 million in debt, amounting to two-thirds of its spending. Between 2004 and 2010, spending grew 28 percent, and the school district now devotes a mind-boggling $25,500 per student every year (the Pennsylvania average is $14,000). In the same time period, state funding grew more than 40 percent.

Rather than condemning Chester-Upland’s children to a shoddy education, or no education at all, school choice is the lifeline these kids desperately need. Vouchers or tax-exempt scholarships would allow Chester-Upland families to use taxpayer dollars already in play—and less of them—at better schools of their choice. The school district complains it has lost half of its students to charter schools, and with them part of the funding that would otherwise go to the district. But public education funding is for STUDENTS, not systems, and should rightly follow children who go to other types of public schools. Let the kids flee, and let’s stop funding a school district that has refused to shape up.