Wednesday, February 7, 2018

school "choice" and Senate Bill 2

In the last board meeting of the Shippensburg Area School District, the board voted unanimously to approve a resolution in OPPOSITION to Senate Bill 2 (you can download and read the resolution here). We asked our representative in the Pennsylvania Senate, Richard Alloway, to reverse his support for the bill.

Yesterday, I, along with (it would appear) all the county commissioners, borough and township officials, superintendents and school board directors in his district, received an email from Senator Alloway suggesting that we must have passed this and similar such resolutions because we misunderstood the bill. I don't believe we did.

Below, I've posted Senator Alloway's email and, following that, my response (sent today). Enjoy.


February 6, 2018

           Dear County Commissioners , Borough Officials, Township Officials, Superintendents, and School Board members, 

     A number of local school districts, boroughs and townships recently passed resolutions in opposition to Senate Bill 2, legislation that would help students in underperforming schools pursue other educational opportunities. Based on the content of these resolutions, I believe a great deal of the local opposition stems from misinformation that has been intentionally spread by those who want to see the bill fail. I have enclosed a fact sheet that includes additional information on this proposal for your consideration . 

     Most importantly, I feel it is critical to reiterate that Senate Bill 2 would not have any effect on funding for our local schools in the 33rd Senatorial District. The legislation only applies to schools that rank among the lowest 15 percent in terms of academic achievement and performance across the state. No schools in our area meet that criteria, meaning the bill would not affect local students or schools in any way. 

     The legislation only seeks to help students who are trapped in consistently failing schools. In those cases, students and parents would be empowered to redirect a portion of the money the state contributes for their education toward programs that better meet the student's unique educational needs. 

     For example, the Harrisburg School District currently spends more than $18,000 per student. A student withdrawing from that district receives just $5,700 in their Education Savings Account (ESA), while the remaining $12,000 stays in the district. Essentially, the ESA model will allow the state money to follow the student instead of the school. States that have followed a similar approach have seen improved student performance both in public schools and among students who opt-out of public schools. 

     Ensuring accountability for the use of ESA funds should be a priority, and measures included in the bill are designed to protect against fraud and abuse. Participating education providers would also be required to meet strict standards to measure learning gains in key areas. 

     The goal of the legislation is not to take anything away from public schools or school districts. Instead, the bill seeks to meet the educational needs of all students in the most efficient and effective ways possible. That is a goal I believe we can all support, and I will continue working toward that objective as a member of the Senate Education Committee.

     I hope that you find this information to be useful. Please feel free to contact me if you need additional information or would like to discuss this issue further.


Senator Rich Alloway


Dear Senator Alloway,

I appreciate your email. I appreciate your effort to attempt to clarify your understanding of Senate Bill 2. However, I do not believe that I, nor any director of the Shippensburg Area School District, misunderstood the bill.

You claim that the bill would not affect any local schools. That may be true, now, but only because none of our schools fall in the bottom 15% of districts. Presently. They have in the past and, while hopefully not, they may very well fall into that category in the future. So, your contention is misleading, because, in fact, the bill _might_ affect local students or schools.

Furthermore, you also contend that the goal of Senate Bill 2 is not to take anything away from public schools. Well, that may not be the goal, but it will surely be the effect.

Consider: if one family in a qualifying school (Harrisburg School District, for example) elects to take the option to leave the public school, the money allocated to that student ($18,000) leaves the district, but the district still has the responsibility of educating all remaining children...with $18,000 less in their budget. Their burden has not been significantly decreased, but the resources allocated to fulfill its mission have. It seems obvious to me that such a system would only do further harm to already struggling districts and put the most disadvantaged students in these districts at a further disadvantage. Why would you support a bill that will only serve to HURT those who most need help?

Even if you believe that there is no hope for these failing districts and that the best hope for children is to have an affordable "choice" to leave the public school, that move will, at best, only be taken by those families whose parents take the most interest in their children's education, but will further handicap those children whose parents are not sophisticated enough to navigate such a system. Again, Senate Bill 2 would only HURT those who are already the most disadvantaged. This is not good social policy. 

Senator Alloway, please retract your support for Senate Bill 2. The "school choice" movement is not good for our schools, and it is not good for children. (But it is good for the corporate interests that profit from "choice." Don't let them buy your vote. Do what's right for PA.)


Nathan Goates
Director, Shippensburg Area School District

P.S. In regard to your "fact sheet," I suggest you revisit the evidence you think you have that supports school choice. By my review of the scholarly literature, the evidence to support the efficacy of school choice in lifting the quality of education is thin at best. By my reading, the scholarly consensus is that the market ideology of "choice" improving educational outcomes overall simply does not pan out.