Dr. Joseph J. Roy
Superintendent of Schools
1516 Sycamore Street
Bethlehem, Pennsylvania 18017-6099
Telephone: 610.861.0500, ext. 60250
Superintendent's Response to Act 85
The following article related to Act 85 appeared in The Morning Call in September, 2012. Dr. Roy's responses to The Morning Call's questions are below:
Q. The Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit Program under Act 85 provides scholarships to children in low-performing schools to attend private schools. Why shouldn't the state give students an alternative?
A. Act 85 has nothing to do with improving the education of public school students and everything to do with the privatization of public education. Our Governor and state legislature chose to divert public tax dollars to parochial and private schools. This diversion of up to $50 million undermines the education of all public school students. By the way, students in our district do have alternatives through open enrollment for elementary schools. Additionally, 1100 students who reside in the BASD choose to attend charter schools that are already funded by public tax dollars.
Q. Education Week reported last week on a study that found a New York City voucher program for private school increased the likelihood for black students, but not all students, to attend college after high school. Doesn't this show a benefit?
A. If students from desperately poor NYC schools attended a well-financed private school, I would expect those results. Financial resources make a difference. Rather than directing resources to poor PA public schools, Act 85 diverts resources to private and parochial schools.
Q. The state announced the program in July, but as of two weeks ago, private schools said they still didn't have any money and only 14 out of 500 school districts signed up. Did the state rush the program?
A. Obviously. Politics took precedence over education.
Q. Private schools do not abide by state education standards or give their students PSSA tests. Is there a way for the state to track student progress and taxpayer costs?
A. Act 85 contains no provision for the private and parochial schools that could receive up to $50 million in public funds to demonstrate their quality nor, to my knowledge, does it contain accountability provisions to monitor the performance of students who will attend these schools.
Q. The state's list of low-performing schools -- those scoring in the bottom 15 percent in combined math and reading scores -- includes schools that met state standards. Those school districts are livid over this. What do you have to say about that?
A. Unfortunately, the manner in which the PA Department of Education (PDE) determined the "lowest performing schools" had little to do with the actual effectiveness of schools in improving student learning. On PDE's own website, the state makes clear both achievement (math and reading scores) AND growth (value-added) should be used to assess a school's performance. Student growth in math and reading is a fair measure of a school's effectiveness. Act 85 ignores a school's success in actually improving student learning. As a result, PDE's list includes schools that demonstrate strong student growth AND meet state/federal performance benchmarks. Again, Act 85 is not about education, it's about politics.
Q. The scholarships are available to families with incomes up to $60,000 plus $12,000 for each school-age child. What do you think of this threshold?
A. The state created a new $50 million entitlement program for families making upward of $90,000 if they have three children. To lay the politics behind this bare, the entitlement extends to families whose children already attend a private/parochial school but happen to live near a school that is on the state's fatally flawed list. Dollars that, without Act 85, would go to state revenues to fix roads and support public schools will now pay the tuition of students already attending private and parochial schools. Using public funds for private ends undermines our state's historic commitment to public education for the public good.