In the news recently are a number of articles and opinion pieces that have drawn much needed attention to several fronts in the war on public education. The collection is well worth reading.

First off, Education Voters of Pennsylvania produced a report on asset accumulation in the state’s cyber charter schools. “In 2018, Pennsylvania’s four largest cyber charter schools reported a total of $566,858 in the net assets or fund balance category on their Form 990s. In 2022, they reported net assets or fund balance of $486 million.”

The report found that Commonwealth Charter Academy (CCA) has purchased 29 buildings since 2018 and paid a total of $88.7 million for the properties it currently owns which now have assessed values totaling $43.1 million. That private real estate empire is funded by property taxes paid by Pennyslvania’s homeowners.

The report calls on the state to be a better watchdog over how such public funds are spent:

“Questionable expenditures by cyber charter schools and multi-million-dollar discrepancies in financial reporting across fiscal years between AFRs and the Form 990s for some of the schools demand increased accountability from the state, including forensic audits to provide a full understanding of the financial standing of the schools and to ensure that spending has been in compliance with state laws.”

The Washington Post last week took a deep dive into how public funds are making their way into religious schools through vouchers, with a boost from the conservative U.S. Supreme Court, which seems intent on eroding the separation of church and state.

“Billions in taxpayer dollars are being used to pay tuition at religious schools throughout the country, as state voucher programs expand dramatically and the line separating public education and religion fades.

“School vouchers can be used at almost any private school, but the vast majority of the money is being directed to religious schools, according to a Washington Post examination of the nation’s largest voucher programs.

“Vouchers, government money that covers education costs for families outside the public schools, vary by state but offer up to $16,000 per student per year, and in many cases fully cover the cost of tuition at private schools. In some schools, a large share of the student body is benefiting from a voucher, meaning a significant portion of the school’s funding is coming directly from the government.”

A post from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities written by research associate Joanna LeFebvre outlines the cruel calculus taking place in more and more statehouses: increasing funds for vouchers while cutting public education-funding taxes. LeFebvre takes an inventory of recent and pending legislation covering both issues.

“During this year’s legislative sessions, at least one in three states are considering or have enacted school voucher expansions alongside broad, untargeted property tax cuts. Over half of states have already enacted deep personal and corporate income tax cuts in the last three years. These policies will result in under-resourced public schools, worse student outcomes, and, over time, weaker communities.

“Research suggests property tax cuts result in disproportionately less funding for districts serving large numbers of students of color and that school funding matters more for these students’ life outcomes because of historical and systemic racial discrimination. States wishing to ensure a quality education for all children should instead invest in public schools, reject K-12 voucher programs, and pursue only targeted property tax relief.”

Finally, in an op/ed in U.S. News,  Jasmine Bolton and April Callen of the Partnership for the Future of Learning expose the “school choice” idea for what it really is: a Trojan Horse for privatizing education. They also identify its roots in the segregationist private school boom that followed public school integration.

“Vouchers as we know them emerged in the aftermath of the Brown v. Board of Education ruling in 1954 that overturned the lie of segregated schools being “separate but equal.” States and municipalities started funding scholarships for white families who wanted to avoid federal desegregation to attend private schools that didn’t admit Black students. Vouchers are rooted in resistance to desegregation, and this troubling legacy continues to undermine the public education system today.

“Today’s vouchers promote the same mission of separation of races and economic classes, under a false guise of equity. Voucher advocates often start their campaigns in urban school districts, but funds get diverted to private schools that often lack accountability, transparency or a commitment to equity and inclusion. Private schools tend to not accept federal funding, in part because then they don’t have to adhere to federal anti-discrimination laws.”

The separation of church and state, universal public education, equal opportunity, and accountability are all at risk with the proliferation of policies promoting vouchers and charter schools. As these articles show, our vigilance in fighting back is required.

Donald Cohen
Executive Director

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