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State control of poorly run schools no solution

It's hard to believe that anyone would propose that the state of Pennsylvania take over another school district given its abysmal track record in that regard. Yet that is exactly what State Sen. Lloyd Smucker (R., Lancaster) is suggesting with a bill he plans to introduce that would threaten low-performing school districts with a state takeover unless they improve. That's like threatening to throw more water on a drowning man unless he swims.

Since most of the state's lowest-performing schools are in Philadelphia, the city would appear to be a main target of Smucker's bill. But wait a minute, Philadelphia schools are already under state control, and have been since 2001, when the School Reform Commission was created as part of a quid quo pro to get more state money for city schools. The governor appoints three of the SRC's five commissioners. How much more does Smucker want the state to be in charge?

Want another example of how badly the state has done in taking over schools that were in trouble financially and academically? You don't have to go far. Look at the Chester Upland district, which had a state-appointed receiver that the state tried to fire. After a court challenge prevented that, the state hired a consultant at $144,000 a year to assist the receiver, who was also paid $144,000 a year. And Chester Upland schools are still among the worst in the state.

There's nothing wrong with Smucker's goals. He says he wants school districts with higher numbers of poor students, special-education students, and students who speak English as a second language to get more state funding. But if those districts don't do any better with the additional funding, he wants the worst schools placed in new state-created special districts, where some schools might become charters. Instead of going that route, why not give the underfunded, undermanned state Education Department the resources it needs to provide more hands-on assistance to troubled districts without taking them over. More charters would still be an option, if that's what Smucker really wants.

Harold Jackson is editorial page editor of The Inquirer.