EDITORIAL: Pa.'s weakest districts targeted
The vultures are circling, and York City School District officials would be wise to take notice.
York City is among four Pennsylvania districts placed in state-mandated financial recovery in 2012 under a new law proponents said would finally hold to account school districts that have failed taxpayers and students alike.
York City schools clearly earned the dubious designation, one it will keep after state officials in August denied the district's request to be removed from recovery.
Its graduation rates are among the lowest in the state — among, unsurprisingly, its peers also listed on the state's initial list of underperformers: Harrisburg, Chester Upland and Duquesne. Its financial condition has been a dumpster fire for years.
And, all the while, York City property owners never get a whiff of tax relief.
But one can't help but wonder if the past few months were a harbinger of things to come for York City. And, if that's true, the district should gird itself against an onslaught of special interests and right-wing politicians conspiring to undermine the very idea of public education itself.
The war in Harrisburg School District has been ugly for months. This past summer, the school board revolted against the state, denying state officials access to documents and information. Soon after, much of its leadership was sacked when the state took control of its operations and the state-appointed receiver hired an outside agency for most non-educational operations.
But it got worse.
This past month, state House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny County, rolled out legislation that would create a voucher program specifically in Harrisburg School District. The move would immediately bleed $5 million from the district's budget just to pay for students already enrolled in private schools. And that number would only increase as more parents are paid to send their children elsewhere.
Turzia's bill would, seemingly by design, cripple Harrisburg's school district and potentially render it unsalvageable.
On Wednesday, officials from Chester Upland's school district went to court fighting for their district's survival. They are faced off against Chester Community Charter School, which is looking to seize control of all elementary education, a move that would no doubt hammer the struggling public district's finances even more.
It's no secret that Republicans and private interests are working throughout the country to privatize education.
But education remains a public responsibility, one that benefits society at its very core.
Sure, elderly taxpayers grumble about ever-increasing taxes. Schools in poor, minority communities struggle financially and academically. And lawmakers lack the seriousness to address the systematic failings of a property tax-based system that creates haves and have nots.
But the "school choice" red herring only serves to line investors' pockets and rob taxpayers of accountability. And, judging by recent history, the enemies of public education are targeting Pennsylvania's weakest districts first.
York City School District be warned.