Ed Note: According to Tea Party activist Teri Adams, the question and answers noted below were from the newsletter of the Unite PA, Lancaster and are not intended to reflect a “Tea Party” consensus.
Citizen’s Alliance for Pennsylvania has written a response to the objections of some Tea Party groups to SB 1, which is the pending school choice legislation in Pennsylvania. After Sunday’s debate hosted by The Independence Hall Tea Party Association, however, it seems many of the concerns are moot matters as there is very little Tea Party opposition in principle to school choice and that the objections to SB 1 involve simply scope and mechanics which are likely to be addressed when the bill gets to the House.
For instance, Chris Freind, one of the most vocal and articulate critics of SB1, said Sunday that he didn’t think the bill — even as is — would be found to be unconstitutional and would likely save the taxpayers money.
So let’s get the bill out of the Senate and into the House, and shine it into a gem and save all the children from the burning building to use Pastor Joe Watkins analogy.
Anyway hat tip Bob Guzzardi for the CAP response which follows:
Answering TEA Party Objections to SB 1
Several TEA Party groups in Pennsylvania have banded together
to declare opposition to SB 1, listing their grievances with the
legislation. While their heart is in the right place, their reasons for
opposing SB 1 have flaws. Herewith, a point-by-point refutation:
1. TEA Party Objection: Is SB 1 constitutional?
PROBABLY NOT but the state will find a way to subvert the constitution
by funneling money through the General Fund and using case law to defend
its premise. Article III, Sec 15.
Rebuttal: To which constitutional attorneys should we turn to
answer this question: PSEA labor union attorneys or the premier
conservative/libertarian public interest law firm, the Institute for
Justice, and their Pennsylvania partners? The latter have directly
testified to the constitutionality of Senate Bill 1.
In short, the Pennsylvania State Constitution states, “No money
raised for the support of the public schools of the Commonwealth shall
be appropriated to or used for the support of any sectarian school.”
State General Fund revenue does not meet this definition as it is not
raised for the purposes of funding public education. School district
property taxes are raised for this purpose and that is why Senate Bill 1
involves only state funding for private schools, and not local tax
Pennsylvania case law
permits the transfer of funds to parents for the purposes of exercising
school choice. In other words, because scholarships are given to
parents who then makes school choices, this money is not being given
directly to private schools. Furthermore, Pennsylvania’s General Fund
already includes line items directly funding private school students.
Finally, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court will have jurisdiction
over any legal issues or concerns of constitutionality, though voucher
programs have been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
2. TEA Party Objection: Does SB1 increase the size
and scope of government? YES, there will be a new department acting
independently, hand picked by the Governor and accountable to
Rebuttal: There is no new “department” being created, nor is it
unaccountable. It will be an unpaid “Educational Choice Board” within
the Department of Education tasked with the responsibility of
implementing, administrating, and overseeing the $75 million EITC
program and the $25 million voucher program. This neither increases the
size nor expands the scope of government but provides the vehicle
through which more choices will be given to more children trying to
escape the public school system.
3. TEA Party Objection: Does SB1 take property ($) from one person and give it to another without their consent? YES, ‘Vouchers’ will be provided to only low income families, of whom generally do not pay school tax.
Rebuttal: Do you currently “consent” to the $26 billion we spend
on the public schools today? How about the $19,634 the taxpayers pay
for a public school kid in Pittsburgh? And how much do families in
these failing school districts pay in taxes today for this massive
education subsidy? Unless the TEA Party is advocating abolishment of
public education altogether, money is going to be taken from you for
that purpose; at least with SB 1, your tax money will bear portability
and flexibility, which will result in more efficient usage of it, which
in turn will result in savings to you.
The reality is that taxpayers are already footing incredibly
expensive bills for failing schools and subsidizing low-income
families. The question then is how do we stop funding failure and start
leaving that money with its rightful owners. SB1 does this.
Not only does SB1 allow kids to use a voucher to find a better
school, it costs on a fraction of what we are currently paying for
failure. In Harrisburg, where the taxpayers are paying $17,675 per kid
for failure, the voucher would be worth $8,498. So a kid uses only half
as much taxpayer money to attend a better school. This is good news
for the taxpayer. Of course, it is now incumbent on the Harrisburg
school board to return the remaining $11,136 to its rightful owners—the
taxpayers. And there is a much better chance of getting nine school
board members to return that money to its citizens than there is in
getting the 253 members of the General Assembly to do it.
SB1 is truly the antithesis of the concern inherent in this objection.
4. TEA Party Objection: Is SB1 transparent and provide oversite?
NO, the Education Opportunity Board reports directly to the Governor,
is appointed by the governor and accountable to themselves.
Rebuttal: Where is the lack of transparency and oversight? The
Educational Choice Board is simply the manager of the legislatively
created program. Where else and how would you do it differently?
5. TEA Party Objection: Will SB1
cause a reactionary increase in the cost of non-public
schools? YES. SB1 will necessarily cause “bloated and more expensive
private education”. How much does PA spend on higher education?
“State government spends nearly $2 billion annually on higher education. For the 2010-11 fiscal year, state spending is being maintained with the help of $249 million in federal stimulus money. But that spigot will be turned off in June 2011.” Funding for Grants to Students has increased $55.7 million or 16 percent since 2002-03. Higher
education provides a cautionary tale of how public subsidies can drive
up the cost of education. State legislatures and the federal government
have provided increasing subsidies to both public and private
universities for decades. The universities then use the subsidies to
spend more on salaries and programs, ultimately raising university
expenses and the call to raise tuition, generally answered with more
subsidies. Wringing their hands about a politically induced college
affordability crisis, politicians have continued to increase subsidies.
Lawmakers should be concerned that the same phenomenon could occur in
K-12 education. (In other words, the non-public schools would have NO
restraint in raising their tuition fees, making it more expensive for
EVERYONE – Why would they leave the money on the table – they won’t!).
Rebuttal: This is an “apples and oranges” analogy that ignores
what happens in a marketplace. Higher education does not operate on a
portable voucher system and colleges do not have publicly elected school
boards that can control costs.
Kids using vouchers in private
schools will make up only a fraction of the student body. This means
that many more parents will be paying some level of tuition. Any
“reactionary increase” would drive out paying customers—many of whom are
already subsidizing others who may be getting tuition assistance.
Indeed, if low-income students use vouchers—and are no longer in need of
receiving subsidized tuition by those paying the full tuition
rate—tuition could actually go down, rather than up.
6. TEA Party Objection: Does the
SB1 Voucher Program treat all citizens of the Commonwealth equally? NO,
only low-income families will benefit from the voucher program.
Rebuttal: The current system doesn’t treat all citizens equally,
but SB1 does make sure that those who need immediate assistance most
get it. A family of four, earning less than $29,000 would qualify.
Should the voucher be made available to everyone, regardless of income
or school district? Absolutely. But no bill has been introduced that
makes the voucher universal.
But SB1 also includes an important increase in the Educational
Improvement Tax Credit scholarship program, whereby a family of four
earning $84,000 would qualify to receive scholarships to attend their
school of choice. This income level is nearly the double the statewide
average, and clearly benefitting a majority of school-age children.
7. TEA Party Objection: Does SB1
invite government intrusion into the Private Sector? YES, Section 2502,
(2) the non-public school is in full compliance with all Federal and
SB1 does not require any private school to participate and submit
to any new rules included with the law. It should be noted that the
Christian, Catholic, and evangelical schools have all been involved in
the crafting of SB1. There is nothing that prevents the government form
intruding on private schools today. Eternal vigilance is the price of
liberty, so we must always keep the wolves at bay.
8. TEA Party Objection: Does SB1
address the root cause of the problem or identify the anticipated result
of the solution? NO, there is no mention of what is prompting this
Rebuttal: The root cause of the problem is the union monopoly of
public schools, kids and teachers. The union runs our Communistic-type
system and it cannot be dismantled in one election cycle. It would be
great to do this overnight, but the power and wealth of the unions is
too great today. We must undermine them piece by piece until we the
people can reclaim our tax money, our kids, and our schools.
School choice, even in small bites, is the key to prying off the
unions’ grip on our kids and schools. They know it, and it’s why they
are spending millions to defeat SB1. It is troubling, to say the least,
that liberty-loving folks don’t see this and aiding and abetting the
enemy in this fight.
9. TEA Party Objection: Is the
General Assembly providing for the maintenance and support of a thorough
and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of this
Commonwealth? APPARENTLY NOT because they have introduced SB1 to put a
Band-Aid on a corpse This is a Big Government solution using tax payer
money reaching into the private sector, where zip code and economics are
being used to determine eligibility.
Rebuttal: So your solution is to keep funding the “corpse”? As
demonstrated above, SB1 actually begins to REDUCE spending in the
government school system. Instead of giving the failing system in
Harrisburg $17,675 per kid, the taxpayers would pay for a voucher of
only $8,498 to actually give the child an education. We then have to
demand that the school board returns the remaining $11,136 to its
rightful owners—us. How is this a “Big Government solution”?
10. TEA Party Objection: Is
SB1 Vulnerable to lobbyists and special interests: Any system in which
the government rather than the consumer pays the bills is susceptible to
capture by special interests. Just as teachers’ unions consistently
(and successfully) lobby for higher educational spending to raise
teachers’ salaries, so government-funded vouchers would lead
private school organizations to band together and lobby for larger
vouchers. Since the school organizations would be organized on this
issue, and since parents and other taxpayers are generally not
organized, it is likely that vouchers would increase over time. How
these increases would compare to the rapid growth we have already
witnessed in public school spending is impossible to say. It is
worthwhile to note that when consumers are responsible for paying
their own way, lobbying is no longer possible: the only way you can
lobby your own customers is to offer better services. This is why
competitive market prices are generally lower than public (government)
costs for similar services–existing private versus public schools are a
case in point.
Rebuttal: Government is always vulnerable to lobbyists and
special interests. That’s why we need limited government and less
wealth redistribution. SB1 moves us in that direction, not away from
it. This is also why the lobbyists and special interests are OPPOSED to
SB1, not for it.
11. TEA Party Objection: Is this a bailout for the
NON-public Schools? YOU DECIDE. The Catholic School System has been
suffering from enrollment decline for over 10 years. The Archdiocese of
Philadelphia has lost 34,462 students or about 34 percent of its total
school enrollment since 2001, according to figures provided by the Catholic Church. Private school enrollment down: http://www.pennlive.com/midstate/index.ssf/2009/09/private_school_enrollment_stat.html
Catholic School Enrollment down: http://www.ncea.org/news/annualdatareport.asp
Rebuttal: A bailout? Hardly. The overwhelming majority of
private schools are guided by a mission to serve, not make a profit.
It’s the unions who are profiting from the current system that pays high
salaries, unaffordable pension benefits, and premium health care
programs—all at the taxpayers’ expense. By not enacting SB 1 and thus
allowing the current public school monopoly to continue, it is the
public schools and their unions we are propping up and bailout out.
12. Is there a Constitutional financial benefit right now in
SB1 for low to middle income Pennsylvania citizens for
homeschooling/cyber schooling/non-public schooling. Homeschool/Cyber
Schools are not included in the bill. However, non public schools are.
If a family qualifies under the generous EITC program (Education Improvement Tax Credit) it
is possible to receive financial aid. However, aid varies based on
the number of children in your household, your income and the non-public
school financial aid requirements that you are applying for.
Rebuttal: SB1 expands educational options for many, many
families. It may not include everyone. But it certainly isn’t
contracting anyone’s educational options but is an incremental
improvement that will begin busting up the labor unions’ monopoly of
school tax money, kids and teachers.
13. TEA Party objection: Is it the role of government to create competition in the private sector or public sector? NO
Rebuttal: The problem is that competition is lacking in the
government education system. SB1 brings more competition into the
current monopoly situation. Again, this is why the PSEA/PSBA hegemony
is so vehemently opposed to SB1. Government hates competition and this
is we the people imposing competition on it.