New Castle News

Closer Look

February 28, 2014

Our Opinion: Giving Laurel teachers free tuition is inherently unfair

NEW CASTLE — Whenever government hands out perks to its own, red flags are raised.

And arguments that they cost taxpayers nothing can ring a little hollow.

So it is with word non-resident teachers in the Laurel school system will now be able to send their children to the district tuition-free. The agreement between the district and the local teachers union has taken effect for the current school year.

What the agreement does is create a special benefit for teachers within the district that other people do not enjoy. If other non-residents want to send their children to Laurel schools, they are required to pay tuition.

The purpose of such tuition is tied to the fact Pennsylvania will not provide a school district with the normal state education subsidy to cover the cost of educating a non-resident student. Without that state support, tuition is necessary — or else taxpayers of the district wind up footing the bill for that student via their property taxes. Such a scenario is obviously unfair.

But somehow, that concern seems to vanish when school district employees are the beneficiaries. What has happened at Laurel is that people within the school system have carved out an exception that benefits only others within the system. No matter the rationalizations offered, this is fundamentally wrong.

Laurel’s superintendent Dr. Sandra Hennon told the New Castle News that the program is open to teachers and their children on a first-come, first-served basis. Right now, seven children of five teachers are participating.

Hennon indicated that while there is no set figure, the district is capping the number of non-resident students it will take for free. The limiting factor, The News was told, is that these students cannot cost the district anything.

But is it really possible to calculate that? After all, state subsidies are not granted or denied to districts based on whether or not a given student adds to a district’s costs. That’s not how cost per student is measured in any credible manner.

For instance, using this yardstick, why couldn’t the Laurel district offer free attendance to all non-residents (regardless of employer) until some theoretical threshold is reached?

Laurel officials may be trying to craft a system that’s convenient for their employees. That’s all well and good — until it has the effect of creating a special class of citizens that enjoys perks that are not available to others.

That’s not how government is supposed to work. And when it does, it’s just one more way for government to separate itself from the people.

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