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Point: Parents Must End the Teachers Unions’ Stranglehold on Education

For an alternate point of view, see: “Counterpoint: Vouchers are Not the Civil Rights Issue of Our Time”

On May 17, 1954, the United States Supreme Court took a historic step toward ending injustice with its decision in Brown v. Board of Education. Politicians once stood in the schoolhouse door as a barrier to keep minorities out.

The new civil rights challenge is to break through the barrier that’s trapping minority children in failing government schools today.

Teachers unions.

Teachers unions exploited the pandemic, holding the education of America’s children hostage to extract ransom payments from taxpayers. Yet, the remote learning they pushed revealed that many schools focused more on indoctrination than education. Unions overplayed their hand and awakened a sleeping giant: parents.

As I explain in “The Parent Revolution: Rescuing Your Kids from the Radicals Ruining Our Schools,” conservatives have since doubled down to provide all families with the freedom to choose how to educate their children. And remarkably, in the last three years, 11 states with Republican-controlled legislatures have passed universal school choice initiatives.

School choice shouldn’t be a partisan issue. Actually, it isn’t among voters. RealClear Opinion Research polling found that a supermajority of Republicans, Democrats, and independents support school choice. Further, University of Houston polling found that 73 percent of Black Democrats support private school vouchers for low-income families in Texas.

Indeed, the problem is that the Democratic Party is a subsidiary of the teachers unions. In fact, unions engage in what is tantamount to money laundering. In 2022, 99.97 percent of campaign contributions from the American Federation of Teachers went to Democrats. Make no mistake, this one-sided cycling of cash has been taking place for decades. And politicians listen to the special interest dollars over their own constituents.

The public school system — more accurately, the “government school system” — spends  $20,000 in taxpayer money per student annually. However, the average private school tuition is less than $13,000 annually. Taxpayers’ money should be redirected to families to empower them to choose the education provider that best meets their needs and aligns with their values. That’s the most economical and democratic approach to education.

The government school system discriminates by ZIP code and is rife with inequality. For example, there are dozens of government-run Baltimore schools in which no student is proficient in math. The government school system is also markedly divided along racial lines. A preponderance of evidence finds that school-choice initiatives yield integration. Lo and behold, several staunch segregationists locked arms with teachers unions to oppose school choice in the 1950s after the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education ruling. 

Today, as it was then, education freedom is the great equalizer.

If the ideologues running teachers unions were honest, they would label the vast disparities in government-run schools “systemic racism.” Yet, they don’t because the apparent solution — giving families the right to choose their children’s education — would diminish their power.

Fortunately, some Democratic politicians are finally breaking with teachers unions. Legislators in Georgia and North Carolina joined the GOP on the issue of school choice last year. In Pennsylvania, Josh Shapiro changed his education platform to include private schools right before his gubernatorial election in 2022. In Virginia, the defeat of Terry “I-don’t-think-parents-should-be-telling-schools-what-they-should-teach” McAuliffe was undoubtedly a cautionary tale.

The Louisiana House passed universal school choice by a supermajority vote of 72 to 32, and nearly 20 percent of the Democrats in the chamber voted for the bill. “As I watch children in poverty, trapped in failing schools, who can hardly read, I’d be damned if I will continue to defend the status quo,” said Rep. Jason Hughes from the floor.

Eleven percent of Florida’s House Democrats voted for universal school choice last year. This year, three Democrats in the Missouri House voted to expand school choice, and Democratic Sen. Justin Wayne made a consequential vote for school choice in Nebraska.

If enough Democratic officials locked arms and listened to their constituents, they could once and for all break free from the militants running teachers unions. If they don’t, sooner rather than later, they will be excoriated and punished by parents, who have emerged as one of the most potent voting blocks in modern American politics.

Counterpoint: Vouchers Are Not the ‘Civil Rights Issue of Our Time’

For an alternate point of view, see: “Point: Parents Must End the Teachers Unions’ Stranglehold on Education”

In 1958, three years after the Brown v. Board of Education order to integrate American schools, the Texas legislature debated a plan that would offer vouchers to parents who opposed the idea that their children would learn in diverse racial settings. Echoing similar efforts throughout the U.S. South, the Texas bill left no ambiguity about the voucher’s purpose. “Such aid,” the legislation read, “should be given only upon affidavit that the child was being withdrawn from the public schools due to the parents’ dislike of integration.”

That voucher bill failed, and 67 years later—70 years this month after the Brown decision itself—Texas still has yet to pass a voucher system. But I think about this piece of legislation every time I hear the claim, from Donald Trump on down, that vouchers and related school choice bills are “the civil rights issue of our time.”

No. They are not.

In the early days of modern voucher systems that use taxpayer funds for private K-12 tuition—1990 through roughly 2010—vouchers were largely limited to students in a handful of urban settings like Milwaukee, Cleveland, and Washington, D.C. That fact, combined with firm albeit slowly lifting caps on income for participants, meant that vouchers went disproportionately to children of color.

A handful of studies through 2002 showed those students realized some academic gains as a result. Over the past decade, however, as vouchers expanded into statewide systems in places like Indiana, Louisiana, Ohio, and again in Washington, D.C., those results became negative—catastrophically so. How bad? In Louisiana, for example, students who used a voucher to transfer from public to private school suffered academic declines more than three times what Hurricane Katrina did to test scores for students who survived that calamity. And like Katrina’s victims, Louisiana’s voucher users at that time were disproportionately Black.

The main culprit was the fact the best-run private schools didn’t take vouchers or the students who had them at the time. Louisiana’s system pushed students of color largely into D and F-rated private schools, and the results showed. That’s why I’ve called vouchers the education equivalent of predatory lending: all promise, no results.

Today, however, as voucher systems grow in number and in scope, those warning signs for children of color are changing into something else. With income caps lifting, and now 10 states and counting with “universal” vouchers for all children, the vast majority of new users are White and coming from wealthier communities. We’ve seen this pattern in new data from Ohio and North Carolina, as well as in Arizona.

There’s strong evidence that most of these students were already in private school even before getting the voucher. And new data shows many private schools simply raise tuition further once taxpayers begin picking up some of the tab through the emerging voucher system.

Even when they do use vouchers, students of color are disproportionately likely to leave their private schools—either because they are pushed out or for some other reason. These students are also the most likely to be struggling academically. What this means is that vouchers may provide a temporary coupon to change schools but are hardly a long-term solution to problems of racial inequality that persist across schools and communities.

Beyond the data, it’s important to note that many of the same people pushing the claim that vouchers are a civil rights issue, are also those who want to ban teaching about racial inequality in public schools. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who signed the nation’s largest voucher bill last year, has also repeatedly insisted that slavery had some benefits for African Americans. In Arkansas, home to some of the most important moments in actual civil rights history, the same legislation that created vouchers in that state also put strict new limits on the teaching of race in public schools—and removed African American History from the state’s list of approved AP courses.

All of this simply means that when we look beyond claims and slogans about vouchers providing a new civil rights agenda, the results suggest entirely the opposite.

Saying something doesn’t make that something so.

Despite Naysayers, a College Education Remains Valuable

Although it is not the only path to success, a college degree has long been a source of pride for first-generation-to-college families like mine.  Some now question the value and purpose of college altogether.  Sensational stories describe millionaire dropouts as though that was a common occurrence.  One editorial writer went so far as to call college a “cancer.”  This can lead some prospective college students to wonder, not which college to apply to, but whether they should apply at all.

It’s time to look past the vitriol of the current narrative and to recognize the transformative value of a college education.  There are four oft-repeated misnomers about higher education—1) “Not worth it,” 2) “too elitist,” 3) “too expensive,” or that it 4) “doesn’t prepare you for the real world.”

College is worth it

First, we’ve heard that, “college isn’t worth it.”  The prospect of debt causes some to question any investment in college.  Is it worth it? Both quantitatively and qualitatively—-Yes!

The reality is that we live in an age where our trust in just about everything has gone down—partly a casualty of our 24/7 news cycle.  And though higher education is still among the most revered sectors in America, right up there with churches, small business owners and the military—the trust level for all these institutions has dropped in the last two decades.

But at the end of the day, college is still one of the very best “investments” someone can make in their life.

Quantitatively, according to repeated analyses by economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, a four-year degree generates an annual return of 14 percent over a 40-year career, even beating the stock market.  In other words, a college degree would yield about twice the return compared to diverting your college savings into an index fund, and five times greater than if you had invested it into bonds, gold, or real estate.  If “college” were a stock, it would be the darling of Wall Street.  And if money is your measure, studies consistently show college graduates enjoy a bump in pay of over $1 million in their lifetime (on average) over those without a degree.

Qualitatively, is a fulfilling life your goal? Numerous surveys show that college graduates poll significantly higher for indicators of happiness and fulfillment compared with their non-graduating peers. College graduates, overall, tend to be happier, enjoy longer life expectancy, have healthier lifestyles, lower probability of incarceration, higher philanthropic giving, and higher rates of community engagement.

Opportunity, access, and upward mobility

Second, the “elitist” charge is just not fair. Sure, there are some schools that cater to wealthier populations, but colleges and education generally have long been the great equalizer in America.  For many women, minorities, first-generation, and lower-income students, the path to a better life starts with a college education.  And college-aid programs like PHEAA and Pell for lower-income students, and the GI Bill for veterans, have opened the doors to college to more first-generation-to-college students than ever.

The 90 independent nonprofit colleges and universities of Pennsylvania educate 45% of all lower-income, Pell-eligible students, 49 percent of all “adult” students, 54 percent of all minority students and the largest proportion of first-generation-to-college students in the state. You may find that surprising, but in Pennsylvania, it’s actually the independent nonprofit colleges that give low-income, first-generation, adult and minority students the biggest boost and best bang for the buck.  National measuring sticks like the highly regarded Economic Mobility Index and the WSJ’s Social Mobility Ranking demonstrate that schools like these change lives and empower lower-income students.

Making College Affordable

Third, the actual net cost of a degree at these independent nonprofit schools is much lower than that “sticker price” you saw.  According to the US Department of Education, average net tuition and fees (what families actually pay after school aid and public grants) at independent nonprofit colleges in Pennsylvania is just under $13,000, less than 10 years ago (even before adjusting for inflation).  A degree from these schools is actually becoming more affordable, not less.

Preparing for an uncertain future

Fourth, we’ve heard that “college doesn’t prepare you for the real world,” and that “colleges don’t meet workforce needs.”

The average person entering the job market today will have 16 different jobs in 5-6 different fields, and the job they have 10 years from now might not even exist today.  So how can you prepare for an unknown career in an uncertain future?  When jobs become more competitive, and new technology like A.I. structurally changes our economy, the case for college is enhanced, not diminished.  “Learning how to learn” is the new essential skill in a knowledge-based economy, and higher education is the surest way to develop it.

Choosing to forgo college limits your options. There are still plenty of jobs available without a college degree, sure, but so many more opportunities are available with a college education. By 2031, 70 percent of all jobs will require at least some post-secondary education, a double-digit increase in just a decade.

Next time you read a news headline blasting higher education or questioning the merit of a college education, tune out the rhetoric and tune into these facts.

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OPINION: PA Students Are Struggling to Read –We Must Help Them

It’s time to sound the alarm on early literacy in Pennsylvania.

Almost half of fourth graders across our state are reading below grade level, a challenge that exists in every corner of our state — from urban cities to our rural communities. Research has consistently shown that early literacy is critical to academic success and long-term achievement. A strong, evidence-based reading program, beginning in kindergarten and continuing into the third grade and beyond, gives students the best possible chance to maximize their education.

Because we are not born with the natural ability to read, the skills that lead students to become competent, lifelong readers must be explicitly and systematically taught at a young age with ample opportunity for practice and improvement.

As policymakers, we have the ability to ensure our students get the reading support they need in those early years so they can succeed later on in life.

Currently, one in five American adults struggle with reading basic sentences. For these individuals, tasks such as reading the mail, completing tax forms, or even engaging in civic duties can be nearly impossible.

Literacy cannot be a skill reserved for wealthy families and those who can afford private tutoring. Learning to read is a challenge for many, and that challenge does not discriminate.

To improve early literacy in Pennsylvania, we are sponsoring legislation mirroring a bipartisan proposal from Reps. Justin Fleming and Jason Ortitay that uses a three-pronged approach.

First, it bolsters reading instruction with evidence-based reading curricula, ensuring literacy achievement for children across the Commonwealth. Second, struggling readers will be identified through a universal screening within the first 30 days of school. Finally, looking at the screening data will help schools and educators design and implement intervention plans to prevent children from falling behind.

When states take this comprehensive approach, positive outcomes for students rise. FloridaMississippiNorth Carolina, and South Carolina have all showed and continue to show us what is possible when a comprehensive law is adopted and implemented with fidelity.

After Mississippi’s literacy program was passed in 2013, the state rose from 49th in 4th grade reading to 21st in the nation.

After two years of statewide teacher training in the science of reading, the latest assessment results also showed that North Carolina students in grades K-4 made greater mid-year gains than students in other states using the same assessment, with the percentage of kindergarten students meeting the benchmark almost doubling from 28 percent to 56 percent.

Those are the kind of results Pennsylvania families deserve, and we can’t afford to wait. Researchers have spent decades determining which approaches work best to teach reading, but if our teachers don’t have the resources they need to educate our kids, our outcomes are unlikely to improve. The pandemic brought uncertainty and turmoil to our lives, and our kids need us now more than ever. Literacy is a great equalizer. Whether a person can read is a critical predictor of educational and lifelong success. We cannot afford to have almost half of our students falling short of that goal.

By providing support for early literacy development, our legislation has the potential to make a meaningful difference in the lives of countless Pennsylvania children and ensure they are able to reach their full potential.

Investing in education means investing in the future of our state and opening all students up to a lifetime of success.

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Three GOP Holdouts Fail to Stop Shapiro Ed Secretary’s Confirmation

Three contrarian votes from Republican senators—including one from the Delaware Valley—failed to halt the confirmation of Gov. Josh Shapiro’s pick for education secretary this week.

On Monday, the Republican-controlled Senate’s education committee approved Acting Education Secretary Khalid Mumin. He was formerly superintendent of the Lower Merion and Reading School Districts. The full Senate subsequently affirmed the pick, voting 46-3 to confirm Mumin.

The three holdouts were all Republicans: Jarrett Coleman (Bucks and Lehigh), Doug Mastriano (Adams and Franklin), and John DiSanto (Dauphin County).

Coleman and Mastriano did not respond to requests for comment on their votes. DiSanto, meanwhile, said Mumin is too firmly embedded in an education system needing change.

“Pennsylvania ranks 8th nationally in per-student education spending, yet we lag in student achievement,” DiSanto told DVJournal. “The emphasis is always on more money when we need fundamental changes in the system.”

“The secretary has been part of that system for 25 years, and I don’t believe he’s capable of or interested in making the reforms needed,” he added.

Mumin began teaching in 1997. Shapiro tapped him for the acting secretary post in January, shortly before the governor’s inauguration.

The secretary won praise during his tenure as Reading superintendent. The district had been amid financial turmoil at the time of his arrival and had seen multiple superintendents in a short period. The prior director, Carlinda Purcell, had been relieved of her position after just 17 months on the job.

In 2021, the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrations selected Mumin as its Pennsylvania Superintendent of the Year, describing the significant challenges the administrator faced when he began the job.

“In 2014, when Dr. Mumin began his tenure as superintendent, he was confronted with 19 buildings of failing infrastructures, eight bargaining units without contracts for five years, and a district having little to no transparency with either staff or constituents,” the PASA said, claiming that Reading was “a district facing a financial crisis – along with a looming state takeover.”

Mumin “demonstrated visionary leadership right from the start to get the district back on a positive track and focused on academic growth and support,” the group said.

Senate Education Committee Chair Sen. Dave Argall said in a press release that the committee “performed [its] constitutional duty” in voting Mumin through.

“I look forward to working with him to improve our education system,” Argall said.

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Scanlon Denounces Parents’ Rights Bill as ‘Right-Wing Straight Jacket’

House Republicans passed the federal Parents Bill of Rights Act on Friday over the unanimous opposition of congressional Democrats, including the Delaware Valley delegation.

The legislation expands the rights of parents to be informed about the materials their children are taught, the medical care and counseling they receive at school, and any violence that occurs on campus.

Pennsylvania Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-Chester), an outspoken opponent, denounced the legislation as a “right-wing straight jacket.”

“My colleagues on the other side of the aisle often talk about being the party of small government and local control,” Scanlon said during Thursday’s floor debate. “They condemn the intrusion of the federal government into local affairs,” she continued. “But this legislation is nothing more than an attempt to nationalize our education system and mandate a one-size-fits-all approach across the country.”

“Assuming the size that fits,” she added, “is a right-wing straight jacket.”

Democrats broadly condemned the bill in general. New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez suggested the law was an example of “fascism,” while her fellow New Yorker Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries claimed Republicans were seeking to “ban books” and “bring guns into classrooms, kindergarten, and above.”

The measure passed 213-208, with five Republicans joining Democrats in opposition. Local Democratic Reps. Scanlon, Madeleine Dean, and Chrissy Houlahan voted no. Republican Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick voted yes.

Scanlon’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

Democrats claimed the legislation is “anti-gay” and “anti-trans” because it forbids federally funded schools from hiding a student’s transgender identity from their parents. Currently, some public school systems, including some in the Delaware Valley, instruct teachers and administrations to keep children’s behavior secret from parents, even if that means lying to moms and dads.

The law also directs schools to make all reading materials within a school’s library available to parents upon request.

Pennsylvania GOP Rep. Dan Meuser wrote on Twitter that the bill would grant parents “the right to be heard,” “the right to know what their kids are being taught,” “the right to reasonably protect their children’s privacy,” and “the right to keep their kids safe.”

Rep. John Joyce, a Republican representing central Pennsylvania,  said the bill is “a strong step towards supporting Pennsylvania parents and students.”

The bill’s passage is almost certainly doomed to fail in the Democratic-controlled Senate. It would also be highly unlikely to clear President Joe Biden’s veto.

The text of the bill also stipulates that parents shall retain “the right to review, and make copies of, at no cost, the curriculum of their child’s school,” as well as the right to know if a school employee moves to “treat, advise, or address a student’s mental health, suicidal ideation, or instances of self-harm.”

Federally funded schools would also be required to obtain parental consent before “allowing a child to change the child’s sex-based accommodations, including locker rooms or bathrooms.”

Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Bucks) added to the bill an amendment requiring the federal government to assess the “costs to State educational agencies, local educational agencies, elementary schools, and secondary schools” resulting from the act.

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DelVal Pols Applaud Shapiro’s Budget Plan

Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro presented his first budget Tuesday, laying out $44.4 billion in spending for fiscal year 2023 in a lengthy speech to legislators.

Shapiro acknowledged divided politics would make passing any proposal more challenging, but he urged legislators to look beyond partisanship.

“Pennsylvania is one of only two states with a divided legislature,” said Shapiro. “Together, we represent many Pennsylvanians who also divided their vote… Through their ballots, they asked us implicitly to come to the table, put aside the partisan litmus tests, and deliver commonsense solutions to the very real problems that we are facing every day.”

Shapiro’s proposed budget increases spending on education as a response to a Commonwealth Court decision, spending on mental health services for students, emphasizes vocational-technical training and incentives for new police officers, nurses, and teachers to address shortages in those jobs.

“Policing is a noble profession and good people want to do it,” said Shapiro, the former state attorney general.

The proposed budget includes a $567.4 million increase or 7.8 percent for basic education and an increase of $103.8 million for special education. He also proposes taxpayer-funded free breakfast for all public school children.

Shapiro would expand the property tax and rent rebate program for seniors and the disabled.   He would also eliminate the state cell phone tax, which equals 11 percent of cell phone bills.

A new program would spend $10 million on public defenders and improve probation and parole programs to improve the state’s 64 percent recidivism rate.

Other plans would eliminate regulatory red tape for new businesses and he also urged the legislature to hasten the pace of planned business tax reductions, so companies relocate to Pennsylvania rather than other states.

“I am competitive as hell, and I am sick and tired of losing to other states,” Shapiro said.

The general fund surplus and the rainy fund are the largest in the state’s history, he noted. Their budget is based on conservative revenue estimates, he said.

However, state Republicans said, if adopted, this budget would spend down the state’s reserves and lead to future tax increases by introducing new ongoing programs without revenue streams to fund them.

Reactions from Delaware Valley politicos were largely positive from both sides of the aisle.

“After hearing the Governor’s budget address, I believe there are many areas where we will find common ground and some significant places where continued work is needed,” said Sen. Tracy Pennycuick (R-Bucks/Montgomery). “I was pleased that the governor chose to support several important family and senior-centric programs. I would have liked to have seen renewed commitment towards Lifeline scholarships and Educational Improvement Tax Credit Program (EITC) expansion to ensure that children have additional avenues to obtain a high-quality education.”

Rep. Kristin Marcell (R-Bucks), who serves on the appropriations committee said, “While I look forward to working with the governor to pass a fiscally responsible commonsense budget, how we get there is critical. The governor’s plan to deplete our budget reserves and the Rainy Day Fund is concerning. With economists projecting an economic slowdown, if not a recession, it is imperative we preserve these funds to manage any revenue shortfalls.”

Sen. Frank Farry (R-Bucks) liked some of what Shapiro proposed, including more for mental health services and removing state police funding from the transportation funding stream. He is also in favor of “right-sizing” higher education and investing in public schools.

Democratic legislators applauded Shapiro.

Sen. Amanda Cappelletti (D-Montgomery) tweeted, “Our minimum wage in PA is shameful. We must #RaiseTheWage and ensure our workers have what they need to provide for themselves and their families. I’m glad to hear @GovernorShapiro call for a $15 minimum wage during today’s budget address.”

But Commonwealth Foundation Vice President Nate Benefield said called the proposed budget “disappointing, giving the bipartisan issues Shapiro campaigned on” such as working with the legislature on getting the state out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which increases electricity costs to consumers, and on school choice.

And he said as for the recent court ruling on education funding, Shapiro is wrong.

The recent education funding lawsuit ruling didn’t order “more money”.

“In fact, Pennsylvania already spends $4,000 per student more than the national average, even before last year’s record increase,” said Benefield. “What the ruling said was that every student must get a ‘meaningful opportunity.’ The only way to deliver this is through educational choice. But Gov. Shapiro walked back on his campaign promise to expand educational opportunity and instead throws money at the same broken system.”

Republican commentator Guy Ciarrocchi urged Republicans to seize the opportunity to pass GOP priorities Shapiro claims to embrace.

“Shapiro stated he wants to make it easier to get permits and licenses; eliminate the cell phone tax; cut business taxes and make it easier for students to learn trades for careers. These are commonsense ideas that the GOP has been fighting for. Pass those bills and put them on his desk—and, help the citizens of Pennsylvania,” Ciarrocchi said.

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DeSantis Touts His Pro-Police, Pro-Education Credentials at Montco Stop

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis highlighted law and order and education during a President’s Day stop in Montgomery County.

Although DeSantis has not announced a 2024 GOP presidential primary bid, his day started with speeches in New York followed by his visit to the American Legion Post in Fort Washington, before heading on to Chicago.

Several hundred politically active Republicans and elected officials warmly applauded his remarks.

“We are the nation’s fastest-growing state,” DeSantis said of Florida. “That’s just people voting with their feet, and they’re not going to go to a place that’s not managed well, that’s not governed well, that’s not safe. We’re number one. I think every year since I’ve been governor in net in-migration.” Also, Florida is “number one in economic freedom, number one in new business formation…number one in GDP growth, number one in education freedom, number one in parental involvement in education.”

The state has lower taxes, no state income tax, and a record budget surplus.

While low taxes are a good reason to move to Florida, “our commitment to public safety and our support for the men and women in law enforcement” is also a major draw he said.

“People in southeast Pennsylvania have seen a lot of the disaster in places like Philadelphia, which we’ve seen in New York City, which used to be one of the safest big cities in the world. Then you look at Chicago, Seattle… In Florida, our crime rate is at a 50-year low. So how is it you have it going up in so many of these other areas?

“We’re not any better than anybody else. We just have good policies, and we have leaders that will stand behind the people that wear the uniform.”

DeSantis contrasted his approach to law enforcement with those advocating “defund the police” politics.

“You had major cities slashing police budgets, really for ideological reasons, not that it was proven it would help the public safety,” DeSantis said. And, he added, Florida gives a $5,000 incentive to officers who move there from other states, along with other benefits. Current officers received $1,000 bonuses.

When he saw the riots of 2020 DeSantis said, “Not on my watch,” and called up the national guard. He also got the state legislature to pass an anti-rioting bill to make sure violent protesters were prosecuted.

“If you riot, if you engage in mob violence in the state of Florida, it isn’t going to be like Portland, where they take your mugshot, slap you on the wrist, and put you back on the street to do it again. In Florida, you’re not getting a slap on the wrist. You’re getting the inside of a jail cell.” Also, there are additional penalties for assaulting a police officer. “I’m not going to have these officers just be sitting ducks.”

Unlike Florida, some big cities are “putting woke ideology ahead of public safety.” DeSantis’ arguments got a boost from the latest news out of Austin, Texas, where street racers took over multiple intersections across the city, using their vehicles to spin doughnuts in the streets and lighting fireworks. They left one police officer injured and damaged several squad cars. Austin slashed police spending by 30 percent in 2021 but has since reversed course.

“Just the contempt of some of these politicians attacking police was really a low point…It has absolutely painted a target on the back of people who wear the uniform. You see it in New York City. Unfortunately, we just saw it at Temple. And I think if somebody goes out and murders a police officer, they should get the death penalty.”

The audience applauded in response. Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro (D) announced last week he would not sign any death penalty warrants and is urging an end to the policy in the state.

In Florida, “we don’t have tolerance for prosecutors who get elected, largely with big contributions from leftists like George Soros…they say it’s their job to determine what laws should be enforced. Not you, the people who make laws through your elected legislators…these prosecutors are “a law unto themselves.”

He said he removed a prosecutor who refused to enforce the law.

DeSantis pivoted to education.

“If you send your kids to school in Florida, they’re going to get an education, not a political indoctrination,” said DeSantis. “Is it okay to tell a second grader they are born in the wrong body? In Florida, we think the answer to that question is no.”

“People that said this was going to hurt me in the election are very quiet after we won by 1.5 million votes,” he said. “We did tussle with Disney. They’d had for 60 years their own government that they operated and controlled in the state of Florida. Those days are over.”

“Then you also have things like critical race theory, where they try to racialize,” said DeSantis. “If you’re a young White kid they say, ‘You’re an oppressor.’ If you’re Black they say, ‘You’re oppressed.’ And this is just crazy that they want to do this.

“So we said no critical theory in K-12 schools. And some of this critical theory is teaching that police officers are just gunning down minorities with impunity.” It creates a hatred of law enforcement in young children, he said.

Bucks County Sheriff Fred Harran introduced DeSantis.

“The police are the public, and the public are the police, and the public must have confidence in the police in order to be safe,” he said. “There must be accountability (for those who commit crimes).” While the suburban countries still adhere to that credo, many cities, including Philadelphia, do not, Harran added.

“Back when I took the test in 1986 (to become an officer), there were 1,400 people [taking the test]. Now we’re lucky if we get 100, 125.”

Afterward, Harran said he supported DeSantis “as the governor of Florida, and we’ll see what road the governor takes. Any comment (on supporting DeSantis for president) would be premature, but I like what I heard today.”

Upper Salford Area 3 GOP leader Kurt Stein said DeSantis has “a great message. And I think it resonates with everyone. We need law enforcement to be able to do their jobs without having district attorneys not obeying the laws of the state. And the most important things to people are schools and crime, and he hit all of that. Woke ideology is destroying the country our founding fathers created.”

State Sen. Tracy Pennycuick (R-Montgomery/Bucks) called DeSantis “impressive.”

“I think he has the right message at the right time,” said Rep. Craig Williams (R-Chadds Ford). “One thing we can do right now is stand up with our votes and say, ‘We support our police.’”

And Liz Havey, Montco Republican chair, said, “DeSantis talked about solutions and the crowd loved it. Law enforcement is critical to society and working with them and supporting them like Gov. DeSantis has helped Florida have a  record low crime rate–just the opposite of what we are living with in Philadelphia, where elected officials have done the opposite.”

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CLARK: School Choice Provides Opportunity for PA Kids

I believe in school choice for Pennsylvania because I am a product of school choice. I attended private and public schools through the 70s and 80s. Also, I appreciate the high-quality education my children and grandchildren have received at public brick-and-mortar charter schools, cyber public charter schools, traditional public schools, and private schools.

It has been amazing to choose for each of my children and grandchildren which schools met their unique needs. I am proud to say that my adult children all contribute positively to our society from the skills and knowledge they acquired at Pennsylvania Schools.

They have cultivated the entrepreneurial spirit into their work lives directly from education choices. My oldest granddaughter has been accepted to six universities here in Pennsylvania due to her public charter school and private school education. Also, arduous work on her part. She credited her success to the charter school, giving her a sense of community, and her private school gave her coursework that excelled her learning. Would these outcomes be the same if my zip code had dictated the schools?

The ongoing debate around funding school choice in Pennsylvania has damaged our national and local reputation as a state that doesn’t value education.

It has hurt how teachers feel about teaching. It has impaired young people’s desire to become teachers. It repels teachers from moving to or staying in our educational system. Over the course of the last 10 years, teachers applying for certification went from over 15,000 to teachers to less than 6,000 in 2021.

It has caused division in our communities when the authorizing district approves and funds the charter school. It is not in their interest to support or allow charter schools to expand. The authorizers impose enrollment caps that limit the number of students who can enroll in charter schools. It also blocks students’ enrollment in public charter schools. It is hard to believe that there is even a debate when all the funds come ultimately from taxpayers like you and me.

It is time to put all differences aside. It is time to see ourselves as a state that values high-quality education for all children and adults from kindergarten through post-high school studies, regardless of where they attend school.

We must declare that we value our students, parents, teachers, and leaders. We must train and empower our school boards to make appropriate decisions on the future of our schools and always maintain in sight that the parents, grandparents, and communities are paying for our schools.

Everyone’s voice is needed, matters, and will allow all schools to create opportunity, innovation, and unity for all children of Pennsylvania. Finally, we must recognize the positive effects school choice has on all schools and our economy.

The Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools will continue to be the catalyst for educational excellence through opportunity, innovation, and unity.  Also, please join us with millions of school choice supporters across the Nation during National School Choice Week by sharing your story on social media.

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PA Public Schools: Fewer Students But More Spending

Public school enrollment is dropping in Pennsylvania, but education spending is at an all-time high, according to a state watchdog group. And that trend appears likely to continue as Democrats, including Gov. Josh Shapiro, have signaled support for increased spending on education.

At the same time, the state awaits a decision in a landmark case that could transform how public schools are funded.

According to the Commonwealth Foundation, public school enrollment has dropped by about 120,000 students since 2000. And a recent report from the National Center for Education Statistics, first reported by Axios, showed the trend isn’t isolated to Pennsylvania.

Public schools across the country lost more than a million students between the fall of 2019 and the fall of 2020.

In the commonwealth, the Center found that the losses were particularly acute, with public school enrollment dipping about 5 percent over the same period, a downward spiral projected to continue through 2030.

Meanwhile, as enrollment declined, taxpayers were asked to spend more on public schools. As a result, Pennsylvania’s per-pupil costs soared to nearly $20,000 in the 2020-21 school year, the Commonwealth Foundation found, citing the most recent available data from the state Department of Education. That figure, ranking Pennsylvania eighth in the U.S., is about $4,000 more than the national average.

In some Delaware Valley communities, taxpayers are spending more than $30,000 per student.

Per-pupil figures for the 2021-22 school year will be available in April, a state DOE spokeswoman told DVJournal.

Most recent figures show per-pupil costs swelled in the Bensalem school district by nearly 25 percent since the 2011-12 school year, up from $16,975 to $20,921.

In the wealthier New Hope-Solesbury district, they jumped from $20,216 to $31,217 over the same period. The Philadelphia school district, by comparison, saw more modest increases, from $13,166 to $18,753, the data shows.

Representatives from the Pennsylvania State Education Association didn’t respond to a request for comment on school spending.

Why is it costing so much more to teach $100,000 fewer students? Nathan Benefield, vice president for the Commonwealth Foundation, pointed out that over the same period enrollments declined, the number of employees working at public schools rose by nearly 9 percent.

The state added about 20,000 employees over that period and saw a 40 percent growth among administrators.

Data previously reviewed by DVJournal showed the number of full and part-time teachers employed for the 2020-2021 school year increased to 123,461 from 119,790 in 2015-16.

Benefield juxtaposed those jumps with more students “increasingly looking for alternative options” to public schools.

“Instead of continuing to fund buildings and bureaucrats, Pennsylvania taxpayers should directly help students,” he said. “If students leave their assigned school for better educational opportunities, their portion of education funding should go with them.”

Across the country, U.S. school enrollment fell from 50.8 million students in 2019 to 49.4 million in 2020, while enrollment in private and charter schools rose, Axios reported. And the number of homeschooled students doubled to about 5 million.

Advocates for increasing taxpayer spending on shrinking classrooms argue that more money will improve educational outcomes. However, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test scores in Pennsylvania have been flat or falling for nearly a decade — a trend exacerbated by the failure of the remote education strategy used during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2019, 81 percent of Keystone State students scored at or above the basic benchmark. By 2021, that number had fallen to 76 percent.

So will school spending decline to match the ongoing trend of falling enrollment? Not likely. During last year’s campaign, Gov-elect Josh Shapiro pledged to spend more money on K-12 education in the future.

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