Acting superintendent says state bill “abandons the Harrisburg School District”

Harrisburg School District is fighting back against a bill that it says would bankrupt the school district.

Acting Superintendent Dr. John George spoke one-on-one with FOX43's Jamie Bittner minutes after he met with lawmakers on the issue in Harrisburg.

"Bill 1800 is a bill that abandons the Harrisburg School District. The work that our team is doing here is to help the school district recover," said George.

Bill 1800 gives students a choice to seek education elsewhere, based on a voucher program.

Read bill 1800 here

Five months ago, the Harrisburg school district was placed under control of the state with a court-appointed receiver. George has been serving as the executive director of financial recovery and he told FOX43 the school is making substantial progress.

He admits the district is showing a nearly $2 million dollar deficit this year. But, he's hopeful the district can close that gap with the changes they are making.

In the meantime, he believes this bill abandons the district.

"The school voucher program cannot let 6,700 students out. It's simply a myth. It cannot happen," said George. He added schools have the right to choose what students they take. That concerns George because he said Harrisburg School District is home to many students with disadvantaged families. Therefore, he asks the question, "so who are we really helping? We're picking and choosing who we help."

Supporters of the bill claim the district will make money off of the bill because they get to keep departing students on their membership roles.

George said the bill provides an $8,000 voucher to children who want to leave. Harrisburg School District, he said, would pay $4,100 of that $8,000 while the remaining balance would be paid by the state. In theory, George said, the district would make $3,900 therefore off each student.

But he said, "what they don't tell you is that the bill already applies to children who are already enrolled in private schools." And, he said, the district will not receive any money for those nearly 1200 children.

"Take 1200 children, multiple that by $4100 per child, you're close to a $5 million dollar cost. We're not making money," said George.

George said if that happens he may have to layoff teachers, increase class sizes and cut curriculum.

However, supporters said the bill helps students gain a better education now without waiting for the district to make changes.

To that, George said, "I believe they should take a look at what's happening in this school district."

George adds Harrisburg School District is not the only district in Pennsylvania in a financial recovery program.

Speaker of the House Mike Turzai released a memorandum regarding the bill.

It reads in part:

"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."

Read Speaker Turzai's full memo here.

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