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Supporters testify for Scotland School

March 11, 2009|By JENNIFER FITCH

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- They held a rally on the steps of the Capitol and filled three rooms for a hearing Wednesday, but supporters of Scotland School for Veterans Children still don't know whether the Pennsylvania General Assembly will keep the school open.

Gov. Ed Rendell proposed closing Scotland School for Veterans Children during his budget address in February. The Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness Committees from both the Senate and House hosted a joint hearing Wednesday afternoon in the state capital to accept more than three hours of testimony on the matter.

State Sen. Richard Alloway, R-Franklin/Adams/York, was acknowledged as the first legislator to request the hearing. Afterward, he expressed gratitude for an opportunity to gather facts.

"Where we go from here, I don't know," Alloway said.

Representatives of Rendell argued the state will save $13.5 million a year by closing the boarding school, which posts less-than-acceptable scores on state testing in reading and math.

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"As we meet today, no one can doubt the harsh fiscal realities facing our nation and Commonwealth. When you step back and set aside our long-standing, deep connections to Scotland School ... you can understand why the governor has recommended stopping funding," said Adjutant Gen. Jessica Wright of the Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.

The school opened in 1895 for soldiers' orphans. Today, elementary and secondary students may enroll if they are related in most any way to a veteran.

Wright testified that of the school's approximately 270 students, 22 currently have an active military connection and four have one parent deployed. Seventy percent of students hail from the School District of Philadelphia.

"Scotland is spending more than $45,000 per student for nine months in a residential setting," Wright said, explaining $10.5 million a year comes directly from the state and the balance comes from the students' home districts.

Tamika Whitney, whose husband was honorably discharged from the U.S. Coast Guard, enrolled her 13-year-old and 15-year-old at the 183-acre campus north of Chambersburg, Pa.

"When you put your life on the line for your country, it's very minimal to ask your country to help your child," she said.

Whitney attended Philadelphia area schools and said they do not provide a good environment for youths. It's often for that reason that city parents choose Scotland School, she said.

"They didn't send their children to Scotland because they didn't want to be a parent. They wanted to give them the best opportunities available," Whitney said.

Angelo Adams, who graduated from Scotland School in 1996, talked about his Philadelphia upbringing with relatives who were not college-educated. He arrived at the school in fourth grade and initially tested below grade level.

"According to most statistics, I should be locked up, on drugs or a deadbeat father," Adams said.

Instead, he graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, served overseas, attended the University of Michigan and returned to Pennsylvania as a taxpayer. He also appeared on the "Oprah's Big Give" television show last year.

"It takes more than numbers to understand the impact Scotland (School) has on the state," Adams said.

Former superintendent Frank Frame fought to keep the school open 19 years ago when Gov. Bob Casey proposed closing it. He brought pictures of a graduate who is now serving a second tour of duty as a lieutenant commander in Iraq. His remarks about the woman brought lawmakers to their feet in applause and prompted tears from a woman sitting behind him.

"Today we're not necessarily talking about life and death, or are we? Take a look at where these kids come from and the opportunities they get that they'd never have without the Scotland School," said state Rep. Russell Fairchild, R-Snyder/Union.

Senate committee chairwoman Lisa Baker, R-Luzerne, described "tremendous bipartisan support" for keeping the school open or delaying a decision until further analysis can be conducted.

Rendell, a Democrat, proposed closing the school at the end of the academic year. Wright testified that assistance will be available to help the 186 employees find jobs elsewhere.

The Pennsylvania Department of Education would help parents enroll their children in their home districts, charter schools or magnet schools, Deputy Secretary Diane Castelbuono said.

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