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In rebuttal: Pittsburgh Promise head says Jake Haulk singing the same old song

| Wednesday, July 24, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

In his “Struggling Promise” commentary of Sunday, Jake Haulk, president of the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy, declared the Pittsburgh Promise “a failure” because enrollment in Pittsburgh Public Schools has continued to decline since the program's inception — and because SAT and PSSA scores fell in that time period.

Mr. Haulk closed his commentary by suggesting that instead of making higher education accessible to urban youth, we ought to use our resources to send our children to private schools.

I happen to share with Haulk a concern for the health of our schools and the prosperity of our students. I am deeply concerned, however, by the enormously broad brush strokes with which he paints and the naive, if not reckless, recommendations that he makes.

Enrollment in Pittsburgh Public Schools has continued to decline. But what Haulk fails to state is that the school-aged population in our city and county has also declined.

Furthermore, he neglects to share that kindergarten enrollment in Pittsburgh's public school system actually has grown in each of the last two years, which is partly because, after decades of losing population and growing older, our city is beginning to grow younger and bigger again.

Aggregate SAT scores have dropped in some schools, leveled off in others and grown in a few. This clearly is not a laudable performance.

What is worthy of celebration, however, is that more students are actually taking the SAT exam than used to because the Pittsburgh Promise makes higher education a possibility to many for whom previously it was only a dream.

In the last five years, the program sent more than 4,000 urban youth to college, half of whom have an expected family contribution in their financial aid packages of zero.

I have a feeling that they would not say that the Pittsburgh Promise is a failure.

Additionally, according to research done by the University of Pittsburgh's Learning Research Development Center, Promise scholars are persisting in college at rates that are 9 percent higher than national averages.

Finally, Haulk has sung the same song for five years — namely that we should instead give scholarship money to families so that they can send their children to private schools.

What he seems to forget is that what makes a private school “private” is its ability to accept some students while rejecting others. There is only one institution that has a legal and moral mandate to educate all children — public schools.

He is correct, however, that this safety net has many holes in it. But until he offers a better safety net that is required to educate all children, I will spend the rest of my days, with a needle and thread, sewing as many of the holes as possible.

I invite all good-hearted people to pick up their needles and sew.

Saleem Ghubril is executive director of the Pittsburgh Promise.

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