The Pennsylvania Department of Education released a list of the failing schools in the state, and of the 406 schools on the list, 177 of them are managed by the School District of Philadelphia.
The PDE released the list in an effort to educate parents and caregivers of the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit Program, which allows them to transfer students out of those academically failing schools and enroll the student into a school of the parents’ choosing; the parent will then be reimbursed the costs involved with the transfer, such as transportation and other expenses. The list contains the lowest 15 percent of elementary and secondary schools, based on the aggregate math and reading scores on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment exams for the 2011-12 school year. This list has the capacity to affect 240,000 students throughout the state.
Charter schools, career and technical centers where not included on this list, although the PDE was recently ordered by the United States Department of Education to recalculate the Adequate Yearly Progress results for the state’s charter schools. That recalculation resulted in a little more than 20 city charters making AYP for the prior school year.
Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan assailed both the plan and the list, and was incensed at the considerations exempting charter schools.
“If the Corbett administration keeps cutting funding to public education, we can expect to see even more schools on their list of ‘low performers.’ Schools cannot get better when they are consistently deprived of needed funds for materials, programs and supports for students and educators,” Jordan said via a statement released by the PFT. “If this is a law for all public schools, then why are charter schools exempt from accountability and scrutiny under this voucher scheme? As they did with the teacher evaluation law, the PDE has once again given charter schools a pass at the expense of traditional public schools. If the goal was truly to improve education, then every public school would be held to the same standards of performance.”
The program also provides tax breaks, in the form of credits, for businesses that invest in the program and contribute to an affiliated Opportunity Scholarship Organization.
According to the PDE, students who live within the catchment of any of those listed schools are eligible for this scholarship, if their family income is less than $75,000 plus $12,000 for each household dependent. Families can receive $8,500 per student – with the amount rising to $15,000 for special-education students.
A likely reimbursable expense would be transportation, which was a “concern” for the district, said School District of Philadelphia Spokesman Fernando Gallard.
“While the idea is to provide parents with the opportunity to go to other schools and give them a scholarship, transportation is a something we identified as a concern,” Gallard said. “According to the program, the responsible school district must provide transportation within ten miles of Philadelphia.” Gallard explained that if a student lives up to ten miles outside of Philadelphia, the district will provide transportation to the student, with upper-class students receiving SEPTA passes and younger students receiving yellow bus transport. Gallard said those transportation laws are already on the books in Pennsylvania.
Of the 177 district schools on the list, only two schools – Smith Elementary, at 1900 Wharton Street and Hackett Elementary, 2161 E. York Street – are not on district superintendent Dr. William Hite Jr.’s list of proposed school closings included in Hite’s sweeping “Action Plan v. 1.0,” which outlined the reconfiguration of the district’s portfolio.
Proponents of school choice will certainly embrace the publication of the list, as the PDE also mandates the district also provides scholarship information on its website and at the district’s Education Center.
The district’s website - http://www.phila.k12.pa.us/opportunity-scholarships/ - provides an overview of the program, a list of eligible schools and a school finder tool to assist parents.
Gallard said controls of the tabulation method and the scholarship program itself is completely facilitated by the PDE, but the district will support any measure that provides educational options for parents.
“This is a program completely and totally managed by the Pennsylvania Department of Education, and all we can say is that we are in support of programs that make choice available to parents,” Gallard said. “We complied with a request from the PDE that we put information on our website regarding the program. And on our website, there’s also a link to take parents to the state’s [Opportunity Scholarship tax Credit program] website.”