Letters to the Editor

School funding formula unfair

As a parent, grandmother and retired lifelong educator, I read with great interest Dave Rowan’s op-ed on school choice (“School Choice Week underscores need for multiple educational pathways,” Jan. 31).

While I can agree that a ZIP code can go a long way toward deciding a child’s future, there are too many problems here for a simple solution.

First, I am sure that Mr. Rowan is aware that a state court already declared Pennsylvania’s school funding formula unconstitutional. The way the formula works, much of the funding must come from local taxes. That’s where the ZIP code matters. If the child is lucky enough to live in a high-income district with higher real estate taxes, there is plenty of money to fund great schools. Of course the opposite is true of lower-income districts like Philadelphia.

Mr. Rowan offers a solution that includes using taxpayers’ money to fund religious education, despite I suppose the First Amendment to the Constitution. The Supreme Court has consistently ruled that direct funding of religious education by government violates the First Amendment’s establishment clause. Mr. Rowan’s way around that is to use the Education Improvement Tax Credit Program or EITC. It helps with tuition by reducing the amount of taxes owed. There is also the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit for children who live within the boundaries of the worst-performing schools. Remember that both these programs use tax revenue that would have been directed at public education. And they indirectly but intentionally fund religious education.

We sent our daughter to a private Catholic school that was a distance from our home. The only government support we received was free bus transportation for her safety and help with her secular book bills. We understood our obligation to pay her tuition. In fact we had to prove to the school that we could afford it. Moreover, she had to take a test to prove she could handle the curriculum. The school had the final choice, not us.

I realize that programs like EITC/OSTC are intended to circumvent the First Amendment, but the result is still the use of taxes to fund private and religious education at the expense of public schools. Meanwhile, private or parochial schools remain in charge of who is admitted and who gets to stay. In other words, they are still allowed to discriminate in student admissions at taxpayers’ expense.

So it is a fallacy to say that money is the only thing that keeps parents from exercising choice. Private schools always maintain final control of their student population.

Meanwhile, Pennsylvania needs to correct the unfair school funding formula so that all children can have access to better schools no matter where they live.

Gloria C. Endres