Kevin McCoy of Philadelphia is very blessed – and very grateful. His academic performance is exceptional, but he says he almost missed his chance for success.
At a Senate hearing last month, the twelve-grader revealed his secret: winning the lottery to sign up for the local charter school. Instead of being stuck in his local county school, one of the lowest and deadliest in the state, it was through this educational opportunity that Kevin discovered his true potential.
At TECH Freire Public Charter High School, Kevin made 14 honors and was Vice President of the National Honor Society. He won the 2019 Young Writers Storytelling Award for his fiction and three STEM awards from the University of Pennsylvania’s summer program. Now he’s going to Temple University as a Provost Scholar to study psychology.
Across the state in Pittsburgh, Maria Leon discovered another educational lifeline. As an immigrant from Mexico, she moved to Pittsburgh with her family but had problems with the assigned district school in her new zip code. The school could not meet the educational needs of their children – especially their son with special needs.
Maria decided to take her children home school during the pandemic and then – thanks to the Pennsylvania scholarship program – was able to enroll her son in Cornerstone Christian Preparatory Academy. She is grateful for the companies and individuals who donate to the program, which she believes is “a great opportunity for young people to achieve their goals for themselves and to educate themselves for the community”.
The McCoys and Leons have achieved educational success despite last year’s struggles for the same reason: school choices that met their needs in a unique way. Instead of closed schools, unsafe classrooms or administrative barriers, choosing a school offered a path to success.
Inspired by stories like these, lawmakers are now trying to open the doors to educational success for more families by expanding school election programs in Pennsylvania.
Senate Draft 1 (SB 1), which is referred to as the “Excellence in Education for All Act”, would expand the scholarships for tax credits that have been in great demand in recent years. In fact, more than 40,000 scholarship applications are rejected each year due to government donation caps. By removing these restrictions and increasing the demand for grant funding through tax credits, fewer children will be denied access to a grant.
SB 1 also contains an important provision to increase the availability of charter schools. Pennsylvania law currently places school districts responsible for approving charter schools. Unsurprisingly, districts often reject applications for new charter schools that they see as competitors to the schools they directly control. The result is waiting lists and lotteries for admission. In Philadelphia alone, 24,000 students applied for around 7,500 charter school places this year. Allowing independent approvers would ensure that new applications to charter schools are fairly assessed.
School choice is not about funding, but about family freedom and equal opportunities for academic excellence. However, bureaucrats who benefit from the status quo only seem to find the time to scold more taxpayers’ money. Notwithstanding the fact that many private schools have almost a third less tuition fees than their neighboring district schools in grants per student. And school districts actually keep 25% of the funds associated with a student attending a charter school, which means districts get paid for not teaching a child.
And it’s not that school districts aren’t collecting enough. For example: New Hope-Solebury School District receives a staggering $ 30,597 per student; Philadelphia District Schools Receive More Than $ 19,000; and Pittsburgh Schools will receive $ 27,000. The national average is $ 14,000 per student. Policymakers need to ask themselves: Does all of this money – a 68% nationwide increase since 1990 – help children succeed? Unfortunately for too many children the answer is “no”.
Rather than putting all of our efforts into a bloated bureaucratic system, SB 1 is making sure more families like the McCoys and Leons can meet their children’s needs.
Every student should have access to an excellent education. You shouldn’t have to win the lottery to get it.
Republican Stephen Bloom represented the 199th District in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives from 2011 to 2018. The district is in Cumberland County. Bloom currently serves as the vice president of the Commonwealth Foundation, a right-wing free market think tank.