Here we go again. The annual slapfest between the state’s public and private schools continues, brought to you by the PIAA basketball finals.
You know what I’m talking about. Every year, folks with a vested interest in the public v private issue rush to the state basketball brackets and scream, “Eureka! We have found evidence of disparity and unfairness! We must correct this injustice by being unjust ourselves and throw the private schools out of – pick one – (Class AA and A, the PIAA basketball playoffs, all PIAA playoffs, the PIAA altogether, America)!”
There’s no doubt the drumbeat will continue: 10 of the 16 teams are private schools. Yes, I include the charter schools in the private category even though they are creations of public school districts, which make them public schools. But in practice, they act more like private schools. If you consider Imhotep Charter and Lincoln Park Charter, the boys’ AA finalists, public schools, well, your breakdown is 8 publics and 8 privates.
But that steams the public school backers just the same. As always, they whip out the stats and point to the argument that private schools dominate the basketball brackets despite the fact that only 18 percent of PIAA member schools are private.
Indeed, the only pure public v public matchup among the eight classes comes once again in boys AAAA between Chester and Mount Lebanon. So a 50-50 fight isn’t a fair fight, in the public mind.
I really can’t add much new to the tired, old arguments that swirl around this issue, save for a change of language. When the issue arises, as it inevitably does at this time of year, it is always framed as “public schools” vs. “private schools.” I think it’s time to frame this debate properly.
Thus, let RodFrisco.com be the first to call this “government schools” vs. “private schools”. Why? Because it’s accurate.
Yes, I know. The private schools have their hands in the public till at least partially because the government schools have to provide bus transportation for private school students in their government school district. And they damn well should, given the amount of taxpayer money private-school parents cough up to the state for virtually no return.
But I get a laugh out of the government school proponents carping about the extraordinary advantages conferred upon private schools in athletics because the private schools can draw from multiple government school districts while the poor wittle government schools with their multimillion-dollar budgets and their multimillion-dollar state subsidies (well, until now) are stuck with whoever limps through their front doors. Or million-dollar stadium gates.
(Here’s where I always add the disclaimer: I’m a government school graduate – Clearfield Area High School, Class of ’75 – in large part because I was barely aware that private schools even existed in the Great White North and because my parents had a whole bunch of kids, precluding any thoughts of paying additional tuition. For the record, I had a blast at Clearfield, at least when I wasn’t being turned down for dates or getting thrown out of my homeroom for being a smart-ass, trends that continue to this day. Well, not the dating requests, Mrs. Frisco.)
The point is, I have some trouble dredging up sympathy for the government school plight in athletics, especially since I’m a big believer in constitutional principles and believe that kids who attend private school should not be counted differently or treated differently than their government-school counterparts.
Of course, the government types have been emboldened by two recent developments. First, Ohio’s serious look at what it calls “Competitive Balance” (I just adore euphemisms) might well bleed into Pennsylvania, where the topic is not quite as white-hot, but soon could be.
Second, for years the government vs. private issue was pretty much limited to basketball, but that’s changing. Private schools are making inroads into PIAA championships that had been more or less the domain of government schools, sports like football, wrestling, soccer and swimming. Just this school year, a private school – Bethlehem Catholic – won a PIAA dual meet wrestling championship for the first time, prompting Lehigh Valley wags to name Bethlehem Catholic head coach Jeff Karam Recruiter of the Year.
In football, four private schools – PIAA champion Allentown Central Catholic, runner-up Harrisburg Bishop McDevitt, Archbishop Wood and Erie Cathedral Prep – all reached the Class AAA semifinals, the first time four private schools had filled a semifinal bracket in the 24-year history of the PIAA Football Championships.
So the Issue That Will Never Die will remain alive (but not particularly well) now that it’s had in annual PIAA basketball bracket booster shot. In the meantime, enjoy the games.