The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Saturday, November 13, 2004  

Picking Up the Santorums' Tab

Sen. Rick Santorum (R), Pennsylvania's biggest embarrassment in the U.S. Senate, though only by a hair, continues to draw scrutiny for his unconventional use of local taxes to pay for the unconventional education of his children.

According to the Associated Press ("Paying for Santorums' School Costs Questioned," by Jennifer C. Yates), Sen. Santorum in 1997 bought a two-bedroom house in Penn Hills, a small town east of Pittsburgh, for $87,800.

Right off the bat that simple statement should raise eyebrows. As you know, Sen. Santorum has a large family: a wife and six children. It's a hard fact to miss given the senator mentions his family at every opportunity and they often travel together around the state. Now, as someone from a large family myself, I can assure you that a two-bedroom home is too small a space to properly raise six children. (I'm one of 10 children; the house in which I spent most of my childhood had eight bedrooms. A few more rooms, while not necessary, would have been nice.)

The question some in Penn Hills have raised is not whether Sen. Santorum is adequately caring for his progeny, but rather whether he's sticking his neighbors with the hefty tab associated with the kids' private, home- and road-based education. You see, since 1997 the Penn Hills school district has paid $100,000 for the senator's children to "attend" the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School, an internet-based educational outfit.

The crux of the matter is that it's doubtful the Santorums ever -- or ever planned -- to live in the town whose taxpayers are paying his tuition bills. According to the A.P., "Santorum's spokeswoman, Christine Shott, said she did not know whether the senator and his wife, who have six children, had ever stayed in the two-bedroom house they own in Penn Hills." In the same article Shott says she doesn't know and can't comment on whether the family ever stayed at the home or rented it out.

More likely, of course, the Santorum family lives in another house entirely: a home in Leesburg, Va., assessed at $757,000 this year. The Santorums pay taxes in both locales, but Pennsylvania law requires the school district in which a student lives to pay the tuition charged by cyber charter schools. Virginia makes no such requirement. So Sen. Santorum has himself a pretty good deal here: Pay the property taxes on a modest, forgotten little Pennsylvania house and let others worry about the cost of the "free-market" choice he's made for his children's education.

Penn Hills school board member Erin Vecchio has asked school superintendent Patricia Gennari to conduct a formal review this week.

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