Educators worry the guv’s education reform bill could drain cash from local schools

By James McGinnis Staff writer Calkins Media, Inc.

Local reaction to Gov. Tom Corbett’s state education reform plan can best be summarized in a single question: Will it drain cash from local districts?

Corbett earlier this week promoted taxpayer-paid vouchers for low-income students in failing schools, changes to how charter schools are established, tying student performance to teacher evaluations and expanding tax credits for businesses that fund scholarships.

Centennial School District board member Mark Miller is unhappy with Corbett’s plan. It would divert another billion dollars of education funding away from students and give it to a privileged few, Miller said.

“The answer is not ‘rescuing’ a small percentage of students from failing schools, rather to fix those failing schools to serve the best interests of each and every student,” Miller wrote in an email. The governor must also recognize his responsibility to fix the state’s Charter School Law, he wrote.

The district will host a county-wide PTO meeting in the William Tennent High School auditorium to discuss education and its funding with members of the House Education Committee at 7 p.m. Oct. 27. Miller urges parents from all Bucks County school districts to attend.

“Committee Chair Paul Clymer is a proven friend to education in Pennsylvania and has agreed to facilitate a dialogue with the Bucks County community,” Miller wrote.

Rep. Clymer of Perkasie is a Republican serving the state’s 45th Legislative District.

Bensalem Superintendent David Baugh said he doubts the governor’s proposed “opportunity scholarships” would have any impact on that township’s school district.

“The preliminary analysis is that it does not affect us,” Baugh said. “The governor is targeting the bottom 5 percent of schools in the state. At this point, it is our belief that there will be a negligible effect on our students and budget.”

Baugh noted that all nine Bensalem schools made Annual Yearly Progress, the standardized-testing yardstick by which student proficiency is judged by the state.

Bristol Township School District Superintendent Samuel Lee said he didn’t believe the governor’s plan, if enacted, would affect the district.

“We don’t have any failing schools,” said Lee. “Also, this would not benefit us in a financial sense. It would diminish the resources we derive from the state. This sounds like a scaled-down version of the voucher plan that didn’t pass in June. We’ll pay attention and see what comes of it.”

Council Rock Superintendent Mark Klein said he’d like to see more details about the governor’s proposal.

Significant legal hurtles must be conquered with school, private and public, vouchers, he said. Klein didn’t think school vouchers would affect Council Rock.

“With charter schools, taking it to the state level is somewhat concerning to me. But I’d want to know more about that — who would sit on the board? If you’re going to allow charter schools to compete with public, you have to make sure they follow the same rules under the state as public schools do. I think it’s a matter of time before we’re looking at charter schools as an alternative throughout Bucks County and the state,” he said.

He’s curious to see how the proposed changes to educator evaluations will develop. But the premise that teacher performance should be linked to student performance is flawed, he said.

“The question should be, how do you help teachers having difficulty in classrooms? For many good school districts in any given year, you have the dynamic of teachers who get an unsatisfactory evaluation. No evaluation system is perfect. But I’m concerned with reliance on student test scores for some part of the evaluation. I’ve never heard this defined and I don’t know how it will work in a practical way,” Klein said.

Ritchie Webb, president of the Neshaminy school board, said he is wary of the state’s favorable view of charter schools.

“A district like ours becomes a prime target for charter schools,” he added. “They get our costs to educate their students and with our costs being higher than in other districts, that becomes a major plus for them.”

School Lane Charter School was recently given approval by the school board to open a school in Neshaminy. Board members expressed concerns about potential negative financial effects as a result of a charter school coming to the district but were prohibited by state law from turning down the application based solely on those reasons.

Staff writers Chris English, Manasee Wagh and Christian Menno contributed to this story.

James McGinnis: 215-949-3248;

email: jmcginnis@phillyburbs.com

Twitter @James_McGinnis

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