Avon Grove School Board adopts resolution opposing school vouchers
● By Steven Hoffman
The Avon Grove School Board handled a full agenda at its meeting on Feb. 22, and the topic that garnered the most discussion among board members was a proposed resolution that would signify to state lawmakers that the district opposes Senate Bill 2 and any other legislation that would implement tuition vouchers that would take taxpayer money from public schools and allow people to use it for tuition at private or religious schools.
The State Senate has a proposal currently in committee that would establish education savings accounts. Taxpayer money would be deposited into these education savings accounts and parents would have the option of using those funds to pay for tuition at private schools or religious schools. Initially, the legislation would be targeted toward students who live in low-achieving public school districts, but the belief is that if this legislation were to be approved, it would quickly be expanded.
Proponents of tuition vouchers say that it's a way to give parents and children more choice in education, while critics say that tuition vouchers only serve to drain much-needed funds from public schools.
The resolution that the Avon Grove School Board was considering stated, in part, that “Education Savings Account voucher programs such as those under Senate Bill 2 divert state funds, on a per-student basis, from a school district's basic education subsidy to be sent to less accountable schools and institutions, and....public school districts accept, educate and protect the rights of all children who come to their doors, as opposed to those institutions that can reject applicants based on any number of factors and are not required to uphold the rights of students with disabilities...”
School board member Rick Dumont said that he was going to vote against having Avon Grove adopt the resolution because he would like to see tuition vouchers in Pennsylvania.
“This is meant for districts that are failing,” Dumont said, explaining that only 15 percent of the school districts in the state would meet the criteria to be considered a “low-achieving” school district—and Avon Grove certainly wouldn't be among them. He said that tuition vouchers would offer parents more options.
School board member John Auerbach said that he sympathized with parents who live in low-achieving districts, and he agreed with Dumont that Senate Bill 2 might offer them options.
But several other school board members made arguments against legislation like Senate Bill 2.
Herman Engel said that he viewed the proposed legislation as a first attempt to dismantle the public education system as it is today, and he was against taking funds away from public schools.
Bill Wood noted that there is no means test in the legislation, so a wealthy family that would already be sending their child to a private school could apply for the tuition voucher, even though they were never in a situation where a low-achieving public school was limiting their education.
Bonnie Wolff, the board's vice president, said that she was strongly opposed to Senate Bill 2. She noted that in the community where she grew up in New York State, the school district was once very good, but was really hurt when the largest business went out. Now, the school district is struggling, in part, because of a lack of adequate resources.
Wolff also noted that the Pennsylvania Constitution specifically does not allow public money to be used for sectarian schools, and the tuition voucher legislation would do just that.
“Draining money away from a school district is a huge mistake,” Wolff said.
When the vote was taken, school board president Tracy Lisi joined Engel, Wolff, and Wood in voting in favor of the resolution, while Auerbach, Dumont, and Lynn Weber voted against it.
In other business at the meeting, superintendent Dr. Christopher Marchese reported to the school board about the agenda of the most recent meeting of the Facilities Committee. He explained that the committee reviewed the list of maintenance projects that are currently planned for the district's facilities for the next year. The committee also discussed a mobile emergency response plan that would enable all employees to utilize their Smartphones or devices to have access to emergency response materials.
The school board reviewed several policies, including those pertaining to charter schools, charter school extracurriculars, and operating guidelines for board committees, all of which were up for their first reading. The policy on charter schools is heading back to committee.
The school district said farewell to one of its most valued employees when Barbara Perzel's retirement was formally approved. Perzel served the school district in a variety of roles through the years, most recently serving as the administrative assistant to the superintendent of schools. Marchese praised her contributions to the district.
Students from the Fred S. Engle Middle School offered a sneak preview of the school's production of “Annie, Jr.” for the school board and those in attendance at the meeting. Eight performers provided the sneak peak, while the full cast included about 90 members.
The next Committee-of-the Whole meeting is taking place on Thursday, March 8 to discuss facilities planning. The meeting will take place in the little theater at Penn London Elementary School. The next regular meeting will take place on Thursday, March 22 at 7 p.m.
To contact Staff Writer Steven Hoffman, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
SLUG: Avon Grove Feb. 22