If the adoption of universal educational choice was based solely on public support, we’d have it here in Pennsylvania. A comfortable majority of voters, and an even more lopsided majority of parents of school-age kids, support every form of educational choice here in the Commonwealth, from tax credit scholarships all the way up to universal choice.
So, what’s holding it back? It’s my assessment that the only obstacle to choice in our state is money (and its effects): power, control, and politics. That lethal combo is being wielded by groups who want to desperately cling to their educational monopoly, which is devoid of accountability, at the expense of our kids. That’s tragic.
I’ve heard it said that educational choice is a modern-day human rights issue. I couldn’t agree more. When we prioritize antiquated systems over the educational freedom of young people, we not only get bad results, but we also go as far as to taint futures and negatively affect destinies. The tired talking points that focus on money and often fail to even mention kids need to finally die and we need to come together in the defense of our kids in Pennsylvania. There is no greater gift that we can give a child than the freedom to excel. Educational excellence is within reach for Pennsylvania kids. We just need to think and act outside the proverbial box.
But thinking outside the box is not the same as starting from scratch. We aren’t roaming along in the dark without our way on universal educational choice. Pennsylvania, despite our EITC/OSTC programs, and our attempt at PASS, is far behind many other states. Our neighbors to the west, Ohio and West Virginia, have robust educational choice programs available to every child; and several politically purple states like North Carolina and Arizona (the nation’s ESA progenitor) have gotten universal choice done. Other states like Florida, Indiana, Iowa, New Hampshire, and Utah have followed suit. We aren’t reinventing the wheel, we’re following the sound of educational freedom… if we act.
Why Educational Choice?
In a nutshell, we need choice because it’s the only just and sensible way forward for K-12 PA kids. If kids wrongly trapped in bottom performing schools isn’t enough, consider simply children who learn differently, children who have a specialized skill and wish to focus on it, or highly talented musicians or athletes who enjoy the flexibility of say, a cyber experience. From tragic cases to cases of preference and convenience, every child/parent deserves the precious chance to excel. But let’s break it down further.
More money (a lot more) isn’t translating into better student outcomes. Although more and more tax dollars are being pumped into public education each year, to the tune of $21,300 per pupil currently, there is no evidence that there is a direct or substantive positive effect on student outcomes. In fact, about 2/3 of Pennsylvania fourth graders at the time that I write are not proficient in reading. Using this figure and an abundance of others, you could actually make a cogent case that more public funding is doing the converse.
Enrollment drops while funding soars and districts add administration. Over the last ten or so years, public school enrollment has dropped by about 6 percent, and that trend is not going away. Meanwhile, districts in PA are rapidly adding staff, particularly administrators, while teacher salaries have stagnated for decades.
Numerous studies show that choice programs positively impact test results, parent favorability, school security, and fiscal considerations. According to an exhaustive report by EdChoice, the overwhelming positive impact of choice can’t be dismissed.
The bottom line is that educational choice works and each false prophecy aimed at halting choice has not panned out in any of the states that have programs. It doesn’t harm public schools, it doesn’t take money from public schools, it doesn’t neglect rural kids, and it doesn’t leave special education kids behind. Lying hasn’t preserved public school monopolies in Arizona, Florida, and Ohio and it shouldn’t in the Keystone state.
That’s where the Student Freedom Account Act comes into play in Pennsylvania. Rather than appropriating billions in unaccountable funds that disappear in our school districts, let’s empower parents to use their tax dollars to send their kids to the school of their choice.
My bill would accomplish that by establishing accounts that are administered and managed by the Treasurer’s watchful eye, finally allowing parents to apply their tax dollars to curriculum, methods, and resources that they know work best for their child. To continue to do nothing and throw more money at a system that hasn’t worked for families each year without offering alternative options is disastrous. Now is the time to shift our attention off of ourselves and onto our kids. They deserve choice, their parents deserve choice, but most importantly, they deserve the freedom to excel. Help us get this done for our next generation.
Representative Joe D’Orsie
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Greg Gross