Try Vouchers, Philly Panel Told

Published December 1, 1997

Two Democratic state elected officials told a special panel charged with restructuring Pennsylvania’s urban schools that vouchers should be considered to remedy the problems of the state’s public education system. The 17-member panel was instructed to develop solutions to problems that plague many of Pennsylvania’s urban schools: low test scores, financial crises, lack of safety, and racial segregation.

At a hearing in Philadelphia in early October, Democratic State Senator Vincent J. Fumo proposed offering $1,000 vouchers to students who attend parochial schools. The public school system’s limited financial resources were stretched even thinner every time a family transferred a child from a parochial school to the public schools, he explained. He also argued that Philadelphia’s 215,000-student system was too large and should be split into smaller districts.

Democratic State Representative Dwight Evans urged the panel, the Legislative Commission on Restructuring Pennsylvania’s Urban Schools, to consider his proposal for providing vouchers to students in “academically distressed” schools.

“Money isn’t the answer,” said Evans, also a candidate for mayor. “To get taxpayer support back, you need radical change,” he contended, arguing for a new, parent-centered system of education funding.

Evans’ views are not shared by fellow African-Americans in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The NAACP has entered into a partnership, called Partners for Public Education, with People for the American Way. Together, they held anti-voucher rallies and workshops in Philadelphia before the hearing.

“It’s exploitative of the black community,” Mary Jean Collins, national field director of People for the American Way, told Salon’s Samuel G. Freedman. Collins did not mention, however, that three-quarters of African-Americans in Philadelphia support vouchers.

The legislative panel, which consists of leaders from churches, businesses, unions, the legislature, and academic institutions, was named during the summer and must report back to lawmakers by January 1, 1998.

George A. Clowes is managing editor of School Reform News. His email address is [email protected].