Pennsylvania’s schools are deeply underfunded. As a result, children across this Commonwealth attend schools that lack the resources we know they deserve, and which our Constitution demands. And while these deprivations are widespread, they are particularly placed upon children of color, children in poverty, and the very children who need extra resources.
Rather than fix this problem, however, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives is considering making it much worse through the introduction of a massive voucher program. That voucher program will rob public schools of money. Making matters worse, it will permit discrimination against children on the basis of their gender, their religion, or their disability status. This is wrong, and we need your help to stop it.
Introduced last month, the voucher bill—House Bill 1717—uses the euphemism “Empowerment Scholarship Account.” Make no mistake, however, this is a voucher program through and through, and its problems are multiple and will overwhelm an already burdened education system:
- Over the long term, HB 1717 will devastate the finances of public schools by sending millions of public dollars out of the classroom and into private institutions. HB 1717 has no accountability measures, will waste considerable amounts of funds that are needed in classrooms, and will not provide a real alternative to low-income families.
- While seemingly designed to help children with disabilities, HB 1717 condones treating these children as second-class citizens, permitting private schools receiving these funds to discriminate against them and allowing the removal of the protections of our landmark federal special education law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. It will leave most children with disabilities in schools that are even more under-resourced than they are today.
- HB 1717 also sanctions discrimination against children on the basis of their religion, their gender, or their sexual orientation. Now more than ever, this is not a path this Commonwealth, or any community, should travel.
- Children of color are particularly hurt by Pennsylvania’s failure to fund its schools, with children of color disproportionately placed in schools without the most basic educational resources. HB 1717 will make this inequity worse by taking resources from these especially underfunded school districts and shifting money to private institutions.
We are doing our part to stop HB 1717, working with a coalition of public education and disability rights advocates from across our Commonwealth, urging Representatives to oppose this bill and to stand up for our children.
Can you do your part? Can you call your State Representative and tell them that you too oppose HB 1717? While you are at it, call your State Senator too, and tell her or him that vouchers and discrimination are not the way forward for our public schools or for our children.