The “school choice” argument is a bad-faith attempt at furthering the privatization of PA schools.

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If you work in education, have school-aged children in Pennsylvania, or follow the investments of hip-hop’s first billionaire Jay-Z, you’ve probably heard something about private school vouchers or the “school choice” debate. The current proposal is the Pennsylvania Award for Student Success (PASS) program, which would give up to $15,000 annually to eligible students to attend nonpublic schools. The proposed program, shot down last year and up for a vote again this month, would cost about $100 million annually. Jay-Z’s Roc Nation recently infused the pro-PASS campaign with $300 million in promotional events and materials, which has brought the program under renewed scrutiny. Conservative billionaire Jeff Yass has also thrown his money behind the campaign.

Those in favor of “school choice” believe that taxpayer money should be spent on private school scholarships, primarily, but not exclusively, for low-income students. The origins of this idea can be traced back to noted Republican Milton Friedman, who suggested that free market principles would improve the public school system. Today it is embraced by Democrats such as Governor Josh Shapiro and state Senator Anthony Williams, who represents Southwest Philadelphia.

Those in opposition to “school choice” believe that public funds should go to public schools. It is not the belief that private schools should not exist; it is the belief that taxpayers should not be subsidizing them. When proponents of “school choice” frame their position as one of giving cash directly to students and their families, this is a disingenuous attempt at obscuring the fact that they are bolstering the idea of quality education for some, while denigrating public schools as a whole.

The foundation of their argument is that public schools are unsafe and ill-equipped to educate students, and that parents should have the choice to send their children elsewhere. The truth is that with or without private school vouchers, the unlucky majority of low-income students will still have to attend public schools. Instead of simply removing students from them in favor of privately run institutions, those in power should be committed to their funding and success, as if they had to send their own children there.

The worsening conditions of public schools is a direct result of their purposeful disinvestment – not teachers’ unions or whatever other scapegoat supporters of PASS decide to use. The current “teacher shortage” is a result of low wages, unmanageable classroom sizes, and a lack of resources. When public school teachers inevitably fail at an impossible task, they are strategically blamed for “underperforming” with no deeper analysis.

In the words of Arthur Steinberg, president of the Pennsylvania chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, “The crisis in public education funding in America could have been solved a long time ago if billionaires like Jeff Yass and Jay-Z simply paid their fair share in taxes instead of robbing needed money from public schools to fund failed voucher programs which hurt poor kids.”

A tiered education system is inherently unequal. Voucher programs like PASS expose the fact that in the eyes of billionaires, quality education is a luxury to be enjoyed by the privileged few, while the rest of society must learn to weather the underfunded public education system.

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