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Since 2006, number of private school students in Pennsylvania dropped by 15%, public schools 3%

In the often-fractious debate over passing a comprehensive school voucher bill in Pennsylvania, accusations of ulterior motives have been lobbed by supporters and critics of SB 1.

Teachers unions present the idea of using public dollars to pay for a child’s private school education as an effort to privatize primary and secondary education.

School choice advocates — the term used by those who support including charter schools, home schooling and vouchers for private schools into the public education mix — say unions fear the consequences of students foregoing those schools where labor has a foothold, which ultimately means a smaller number employees paying membership dues.

Both camps are equally impassioned, but one reason for these frayed emotions is not getting much coverage. To put it crudely, students are the resource that compels governments to spend billions on education, and Pennsylvania is witnessing a decline in its under-18 population even as the total number of people living in the state has gone up.

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, the Keystone State is home to 12.702 million residents, an increase of 3.4 percent since 2000. However, in that same time period the number of individuals under the age of 18 has dropped by 4.5 percent — 2.792 million today versus 2.922 ten years ago.

As expected, the number of students enrolled in primary and secondary schools has gone down as well, but at different rates for public and private schools. Since 2005-2006, enrollment has tapered off by 2.7 percent within public schools — 1.78 million from 1.83 million (caveat: this includes charter schools that can be privately managed but still receive per-pupil public funding) — while charter schools have seen a much larger 14.9-percent drop off (276,527 from 324,902). The home-schooled population has also declined by just over 4 percent, 21,240 from 22,412. Those figures were obtained through the Pennsylvania Department of Education Data and Statistics division, which tallies school enrollment.

The earlier figures also show 40 more private schools in the state than there are today.

Legislators in Harrisburg have until June 30 to agree on a compromise over the voucher bill. Yesterday, TAI reported a state House member has announced his intention to provide a companion bill, albeit with more income restrictions and greater regulatory powers afforded to the state Department of Education than the Senate version.

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