THE CONCEPT of school choice is simple. You, the parent, decide where your child goes to school. It's very basic, and the time has come to embrace it. That's why state Sen. Jeffrey Piccola (R-Dauphin/ York) and I have introduced Senate Bill 1 (SB 1), the Opportunity Scholarship and Education Improvement Tax Credit Act.
The legislation will let low-income parents choose where their kids attend school so that children across Pennsylvania have the opportunity to receive a quality education regardless of where they live or their financial circumstance. And the tax-credit component of SB 1 provides financial assistance to middle-income and working-class families seeking educational options for their children.
Those of us in the Philadelphia area should embrace SB 1. Too many of our children are trapped in persistently failing schools, the public elementary or secondary schools in the lowest 5 percent on the most-recent assessment. Of the 144 schools identified that way, 91 are in Philadelphia.
School vouchers are overwhelmingly supported by public-school parents who want better choices. Parents, the ultimate arbiters of what works, are already voting with their feet, either by moving or taking their children out of failing schools and enrolling them in charters, private and parochial schools. In fact, there are close to 25,000 students on charter waiting lists in Pennsylvania.
The Pennsylvania School Boards Association and Pennsylvania School Education Association labor union are the primary opponents of choice. These political organizations have employed lobbyists to "stand in the doorway" of progress for decades while protecting the status quo at the expense of our children, particularly those who lack the option to leave failing schools.
Opponents of your right to choose argue that parental involvement is the key indicator of a child's success in school.
Ironically, they spend millions lobbying against letting you make the most important and fundamental choice a parent ever makes - choosing the school that best fits their child's needs.
But that argument (supported by a recent DN editorial) ignores the plight of thousands of Philadelphia-area parents who are involved with their children's education yet are forced to send their child to failing schools.
Instead of examining test scores and listening to you, the parents, the DN borrowed out of the opposition playbook, recommending more money, which we can't afford, and more time, which our kids don't have.
It's been 15 years since Gov. Ridge first proposed vouchers. The opposition used the same arguments then that they use now - more money and more time to fix the problems. They got both.
Since 1996, public-school spending has doubled to $26 billion a year. State taxpayers spend more than $13,000 a student - $2,000 more than the national average and more than 39 other states. In some of our persistently underperforming public schools, taxpayers are paying nearly $20,000 a student, with poor results. At a time when you are demanding more efficient use of and accountability for your tax dollars, you aren't getting a positive return on your investment. The status quo just isn't working. Our children need help now!
Sadly, the DN has joined those who seem more concerned with propping up a system than educating children. They cling to the antiquated belief that public schools have the right of first refusal when it comes to educating our children. But school choice isn't an alternative to public education. It's a vital part of an innovative and productive public-education system, which can include home schooling, and parochial, private, cyber, charter and, yes, traditional public schools - all of which I support.
But forcing our children to stay in a system that fails to provide them with a quality education shouldn't be acceptable to the DN, or any of us, when proven options can be made available.
Interestingly, in the more than 1,700 words of its recent editorial and Q&A, the DN never answered a basic question: What should involved but financially struggling parents do with a child stuck in a failing neighborhood school? The DN offers the same answer we've been hearing for two decades: Wait! Leave your children there until the school is fixed. More money and more time is all that's needed.
Sadly these are the same answers these parents heard when they were students in the same schools. The cycle continues and another generation is lost. The time for school choice is now.
I urge you to contact your legislators and let them know you support SB 1.
The future of the commonwealth - our children - depends on it.