|Posted:||September 19, 2019 12:51 PM|
|From:||Representative Mike Turzai|
|To:||All House members|
|Subject:||Tuition Scholarships for Students in the Harrisburg School District|
|Every child deserves access to a quality education that is right for them, no matter where their family lives. But right here in our capital of Harrisburg, children suffer under one of the worst school districts in the state, as they have for decades. In response, I am introducing legislation that will provide Harrisburg students with immediate access to a better education, while strengthening the district’s financial position and the ability of the newly appointed receiver to turn these schools around.
Harrisburg’s problems do not stem from a lack of funding; in the 2017-2018 school year, the Harrisburg School District’s revenue was $147 million, or more than $22,500 for each of its 6,500 students. This is nearly twice the national average of $12,200 per student, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. More than 57% of Harrisburg’s funding-- $84.5 million-- came from the state, rather than local taxes.
Rather, decades of mismanagement have condemned Harrisburg students to an underperforming and dysfunctional school district. Despite sustained efforts at reform, both locally and through state involvement, the quality of Harrisburg schools has continually declined, even over the past few years. In 2018, only 7.1% of students tested proficient or advanced in algebra, 9.3% in biology, and 13.6% in English, down from 18.1%, 10.9%, and 23% in those subjects in 2015. Harrisburg’s four-year graduation rate is only 65%, the fourth lowest of any school district in the state.
While the appointment of a state receiver this past June is just the latest in the long series of attempts to improve the Harrisburg School District, it is clear that the situation requires a more aggressive and innovative solution.
To that end, I will be introducing legislation that establishes a pilot tuition grant program for students residing in the Harrisburg School District. The tuition grants would be, at most, equal to the per-student Basic Education subsidy received by Harrisburg from the state in the prior year. Using last year’s numbers, this grant would be equal to $8,200.
Half of each grant would be provided by the Harrisburg School District, and half would be provided by the state. This amount would be reduced on a pro-rata basis for each contributor if a student attends a school where the total of tuition and fees is less than $8,200.
Any student who participates in this program will continue to be counted under Harrisburg’s Average Daily Membership when state educational funding is being calculated. For perspective, of the $22,500 that Harrisburg School District currently has for each of its students, $4,100- at most- would be issued in a tuition grant, while $18,400 or more would remain with Harrisburg for a student it no longer educates.
If 25% of Harrisburg students took advantage of this program, the district would have at least $28,634 for each of its remaining students. These greater resources will allow the receiver and the district to meaningfully invest in improved educational outcomes for all the students in Harrisburg. Harrisburg’s financial situation will improve for each student who chooses to participate in the tuition grant program.
The cost to the state would remain modest as well, and in line with the additional amounts we have provided to struggling districts like Erie or Chester Upland in recent years. Even if 50% of Harrisburg’s students participated in the program, the additional state contribution would be at most around $13 million.
These financial estimates assume that each grant will be equal to the $8,200 maximum- however, as many schools in the region have tuition and fees below this amount, especially at the K-8 level, the true cost of the program to the state will almost certainly be lower, and the fiscal benefits for Harrisburg Schools will be even greater.
This bill will empower the newly-appointed receiver to take more wide-ranging steps to reform and improve the education offered to students in Harrisburg. By allowing Harrisburg families to choose the right education environment for each student, we can finally resolve the decades-long failure to provide an adequate education to Harrisburg children. Please join me in cosponsoring this vital legislation.
Introduced as HB1800