In the latest efforts to promote school choice for the nation’s children, Pennsylvania state Senators Anthony Williams (D–Philadelphia) and Jeffrey Piccola (R–Dauphin and York) have introduced a plan to provide opportunity scholarships for low-income Pennsylvania students to attend a school of their choice.
We know we have a group of schools that have been persistently failing, unsafe and falling short in meeting the needs of our kids and families who cannot afford to move to a better school district. … Our plan targets these schools and those students who are trapped.
According to the American Federation for Children, the bill would provide children from low-income families with a $9,000 scholarship, allowing them to leave the underperforming public schools many of them attend. It would also expand Pennsylvania’s Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program, which provides tax credits to businesses that donate to nonprofit scholarship organizations or other education organizations.
The success of a similar program—the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (DCOSP), which provides scholarships to low-income students in Washington, D.C.—provides strong evidence as to how school choice can open the door to educational success for students.
Research indicates that schoolchildren in the DCOSP are significantly more likely to graduate from high school than their peers who remain in public school. Ninety-one percent of DCOSP students graduate, compared to 70 percent peers who did not receive a scholarship. Moreover, DCOSP parents report that they are more satisfied with their children’s schools, describing them as safer and more orderly.
And all this comes at a fraction of the price it costs to send a child to an underperforming D.C. public school. Similarly, the price of the Pennsylvania’s opportunity scholarships would “be lower than the traditional costs of educating children in the public school system.”
Applauding the effort, Otto V. Banks, executive director of the REACH Alliance, stated:
Today, the quality of a child’s education in this state depends on their zip code. … [The scholarship program] will help provide more parents the opportunity to choose the best educational path for their children, regardless of where they live.
And such opportunities need not be limited to one or two states or to a limited number of families. Policymakers across the nation can look to Pennsylvania’s example as they strive to improve educational choice and quality for all children.