Harrisburg’s School Crisis Shows Students Can’t Wait for Options

With only 16.3 percent of Harrisburg School District high schoolers reading at grade level, a grade inflation scandal, and several administrative financial scandals, Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse called for a receiver to take over the Harrisburg school district. State lawmakers Rep. Patty Kim and Sen. John DiSanto agree it’s time for dramatic change.

According to Papenfuse, a receiver would keep the management of the school district accountable by forcing the district to share their financials with state auditors, weed out corruption, and ensure students are benefiting from the $20,000 spent per pupil.

However, appointing a receiver is not a guaranteed solution. In 2013, the York school district filed a petition for receivership after similar instances of corruption, persistently low academic achievement, and safety concerns. After failed attempts to work with existing staff and school board members, receiver David Meckley called for conversion to a charter school. He was promptly relieved by Governor Tom Wolf and York continues to fail students. Today less than 20 percent of the students in York City Schools are proficient in Math.

Kirk Hallett believes receivership is the best option after witnessing how Harrisburg continues to fail students. As director for the non-profit organization, Joshua Group, he works with at-risk youth and sees many of his high schoolers reading at elementary school levels. Hallet is a supporter of school choice and supported Meckley’s charter school idea in York. For now, he’s simply urging a new approach;

So for the sake of the 7,000 kids who are suffering at the end of the day, something has to happen. Something dramatic and unfortunately, the only dramatic thing that can happen is receivership, state takeover.

While receivership may improve accountability to state officials, it doesn’t make the district accountable to those most impacted: students and their parents. That’s why continuing to expand alternative options, like the Education Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) is so important.

Harrisburg’s students don’t have a year or two to waste. Legislation enacting Education Scholarship Accounts or expanding the EITC through HB 800 would mean more students can escape failing districts next year and gain the opportunity to succeed.