PolicyBlog has moved!

Thank you for visiting, PolicyBlog has a new address.

Our new location is http://www.commonwealthfoundation.org/policyblog

Please adjust your bookmarks. Archived posts will remain here for now.


Monday, March 02, 2009

The Scotland School, the State Budget, and School Choice

The Morning Call has a story on Governor Rendell's proposal to close down the Scotland School for Veterans Children, asking if it is a "pawn in the budget game".  The quick answer is yes ... and no.

Certainly the proposal to close down the school is a "Washington Monument Ploy" (as is the proposal to close down the Governors Schools of Excellence) - cutting a popular program, even though it is small cost in the $29 billion state budget, to make the budget seem austere, or to justify a tax increase.

On the other hand, the cost of the school ($45,000 per pupil, more than triple the per-pupil spending statewide), the 1.5 to 1 student-staff ratio, and the fact that very few students served are the children of active-duty military.  The school is, as Rep. Ron Waters, largely a vehicle for students to escape the Philadelphia school district, and all its problems.

That said, there are better, and more cost effective, ways to serve these students:

  • Transition the school to a state-wide charter school - drawing funding as other charter schools across the state do
  • Transition the school to a military charter, working with the Department of Defense - schools such as this typically operate near military bases, but one which serves students statewide is certainly a possibility
  • Expand Pennsylvania's existing Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) to include a provision for scholarships for children of active-duty military/veterans
  • Create a state-wide scholarship program for military families - the American Legislative Exchange Council has model legislation for this type of program.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Three points:

One, I hope that you, as a conservative organization, would respect and support the fact that from the perspective of a soldier or veteran, sending one's children to the Scotland School is a privilege earned by military men and women in exchange for putting themselves into harm's way to protect our country. Given the country's continuing need, post 9/11, to maintain a strong and adequately staffed military, a school such as SSVC is needed now more than ever.

Two, whatever money closing the school may appear to save is offset, at least in part, by sending at-risk kids back to situations in which they will require Medical Assistance, food stamps, TANF (formerly known as "welfare") and subsidized housing. Then there are the less precise but nevertheless real costs of having more kids drop out of high school, not pursue education beyond high school as much as SSVA students do, and, in extreme cases, the cost to taxpayers of at-risk kids participating in criminal activities and perhaps becoming incarcerated. Those are the kinds of things that can happen when you return kids back to their at-risk situations.

And three, there's a fairness issue. Announcing in February that the school will close in June doesn't give families enough time to make other arrangements. It also fails to give a successful institution time to explore and secure funding alternatives. The alternatives you cite may or may not work -- but the school needs more time to figure that out. If SSVC closes, this highly successful institution may be lost forever, to the detriment of those it serves now, and to those it could have served in the future.