“Severe financial cuts have taken place in all public schools across the commonwealth. The governor then announces a costly educational reform effort, and it leaves one to wonder how it will be funded,” said Linda Andreassi, the district’s director of communications.
Speaking at the Lincoln Charter School in York,where he was joined by Secretary of Education Ron Tomalis and several legislative leaders in education, the governor said his top four priorities for school reform in Pennsylvania are opportunity scholarships, expanding the Educational Improvement Tax Credits program, improved charter school quality and accountability and more robust and comprehensive educator evaluations.
“We can’t guarantee their success, but we owe all students a fighting chance,’’ Corbett said. “We’re talking about our children, and we owe it to them to reform the system.’’
Corbett said his staff worked with legislators over the summer to negotiate reform proposals. The plans received support on both sides of the aisle in the General Assembly as well as among constituent groups and communities across Pennsylvania, he said.
Corbett said the changes are designed to foster competition in all schools and increase students’ overall achievement. By investing in a better educational path for students in at-risk situations, he said all Pennsylvanians have the potential to benefit because this could reduce future costs in corrections and welfare.
“These are not all new ideas,’’ Corbett added. “Similar programs for education reforms have already been adopted in other states across the nation.”
Locally, Andreassi said the plan would have little affect on Seneca Valley. Because Seneca Valley is high-performing school district, she said the vouchers found under Corbett’s Opportunity Scholarship Program -- which would provide tuition assistance for eligible students to attend a public or non-public school of their choice – likely would only affect Seneca Valley if a student from another district wants to transfer there.
“We would welcome the opportunity to act as a lighthouse for those who wish to pursue academic excellence in our schools or within Seneca Valley Cyber & Arts, The Academy of Choice,” she said. “Of course, it would only be right that the voucher money would also follow that student to Seneca Valley.”
Under Corbett’s plan, the eligibility for scholarships would be based on income and residence within the attendance zones of the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools across the state. The proposal also ensures accountability by requiring opportunity scholarship recipients to take an assessment to measure academic achievement.
The state Department of Education would administer the program, including the verification of student eligibility and the processing of payments. Should a child leave hisr school district to attend another school, the state dollars would go with the child.
The Department of Education also received private grant funds to start a voluntary pilot program that aims to improve the state’s teacher evaluation tools. One hundred education entities have signed up for the voluntary pilot program, including 82 school districts, 10 Career and Technical Centers and eight charter schools.
Building off the pilot program, Corbett's proposed legislation would implement a new statewide method to evaluate teachers. This includes rating systems that would focus on student performance as well as evaluations of teachers, principals and education specialists. Employees would be ranked as “distinguished,’’ “proficient,’’ “needs improvement’’ or “failing.’
Andreassi said Seneca Valley already performs teacher evaluations.
“It’s a topic we take seriously and engage in actively,” she said. “We look forward to hearing more from the governor’s office on what the plan entails and how he intends to pay for it.”