CF’s work in education focuses on promoting opportunity and improving children’s lives though incentive-based reforms. Instead of repeating the failed attempts to reform education through new rules or additional funding, such reforms use competition to improve education. Incentive-based reforms include providing choice within the public school system through charter schools and cyber schools, providing families with private school options through vouchers or tax credit-funded scholarships, and measuring and rewarding success in education for both schools and teachers. Only when parents are able to choose the best school for their child, have an abundance of educational choices and ample information, and schools are forced to compete for students will we provide the best education to Pennsylvania’s youth.
“No more lives torn apart, and wars would never start, and time would heal all hearts.” You might recognize those words from the ubiquitous-around-the-holidays song, “Grown-Up Christmas List.” Grown up? Sure. Likely to happen? Not on this planet. Here is a Christmas wish list that can come true and would make Pennsylvania a place where everyone can thrive.
Conventional governing is hampering Pennsylvania’s progress. Growing state budgets combined with one-time revenue transfers and targeted tax hikes are delaying the structural reforms essential to improving the quality of life for people who live and work in Pennsylvania.
If Pennsylvania students miss three days of school without an excuse, the law says they must be reported. But across the commonwealth, certain teachers have been absent for years—without consequences
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Earlier this month, House Majority Leader Dave Reed challenged his colleagues to change the way Harrisburg operates: “Now is the time to reimagine and redesign government, our state and our future.” A change in Harrisburg’s culture is surely needed. Decades of high taxes, wasteful spending, and poorly designed policies have sunk the commonwealth’s finances and stymied economic progress.
What's most devastating is when poor policies impact the future of our children—which is why reimagining our education system is so critical. Too often, Pennsylvania’s education model prioritizes systems over students. School officials—rather than parents—are given precedent to make consequential decisions affecting the education of more than 1.7 million students. This top-down management style has produced subpar outcomes in too many schools, forcing parents to seek alternatives to traditional public schools.
Unfortunately, not every family is lucky enough to send their son or daughter to a high-performing school. The education establishment will place the blame on funding shortages, but as my colleague James has noted, education spending is at its highest level ever. School districts spend, on average, $15,800 per student. This figure could always grow higher, but inflating school budgets will only add to Pennsylvania’s high tax burden, without guaranteeing any improvement in academic achievement.
The solution to the state’s educational woes doesn’t require more political control. It requires more parental control. To a limited extent, Pennsylvania encourages parental control with programs like the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC). But more needs to be done.
Every student deserves a quality education. And every family deserves to determine what a quality education looks like. Expanding school choice programs can help make these goals a reality. Putting parents firmly in control of educational decisions has led to improved student outcomes and savings for taxpayers. The latter is especially relevant in the context of the state’s fiscal outlook.
Pennsylvania is staring down a $600 million shortfall for the year, and will need to deal with a projected $1.7 billion projected shortfall in 2017-18. To address these challenges, CF released Embracing Innovation in State Government, detailing how policymakers can reduce state government’s cost to avoid another round of tax increases.
School choice is one of the cost-saving measures included in the report. The costs of the EITC and OSTC represent just a fraction of student funding in a traditional public school. For example, in 2013-2014, the average EITC scholarship was $1,587 per student, whereas funding in a traditional public school exceeded $15,000 per student. Moving students to the less expensive, more effective alternative nets taxpayers significant savings.
Taking a hard look at how Pennsylvania funds education will play a critical role in controlling spending and truly reimaging government.
It shouldn’t be a debt sentence to get a college education. Yet in 2010, Americans’ student loan debt surpassed even that of credit card debt. In a testimony before a U.S. Congressional Subcommittee, Neal McCluskey of the Cato Institute explains why college has become so expensive: the skyrocketing growth of federal student aid, which comes in the form of Pell grants, federal loans, and other assistance programs.
Consider how the cost of college has risen compared to other industries. Between 1978 and 2011, the annual tuition increase was 7.45 percent. Over the same period, health care costs grew 5.8 percent, and the Consumer Price Index increased by only 3.8 percent.
McCluskey provides this analogy to explain the problem of rising aid:
If I had been buying a hot dog from a vendor for a dollar, and hot dogs were basically the only available food stuffs, then someone gave me a dollar and, in ear-shot of my vendor and all other vendors, told me I had to use it for a hot dog, my vendor and all the other vendors would have strong incentives to raise their prices. Then, if the hot dog benefactor kept upping my allowance to keep up with rising prices, a price spiral would ensue. That seems a rational explanation for what is basically happening in college pricing...
Federal student aid enables extravagant building projects, as well as higher administrative and overhead costs, which add little educational value to students.
Gradually phasing out these subsidies would allow individuals and families to assume more responsibility over their education—and lower tuition costs for everyone. Aid that remains should come in the form of flat grants to students. (The grants should not be awarded based on the the cost of tuition at a given university, as this encourages schools to raise tuition and receive greater taxpayer support). What can take the place of declining government subsidies? Private lending, private scholarship funds, and income-based repayment plans.
Read McCluskey's testimony in full.
As a recent graduate from PA Leadership Charter School (PALCS), I’m familiar with school choice. In fact, for the past five years, I have joined my Student Government on an annual trip to the capitol in an effort to preserve and strengthen cyber charter schools. I have been homeschooled and cyber charter schooled all of my life, and I know these schools are worth fighting for because traditional schools don’t work for everyone. I've heard countless stories from students who found success when given the choice for an alternative education.
My sister, Cherise, is one of those students.
Upon Cherise’s adoption from Haiti at the age of six, my parents discovered she had lead poisoning, a condition bearing symptoms of developmental delays and learning disabilities. As a result, she processed information more slowly than most and struggled to remember what she learned.
My parents homeschooled her and the rest of my siblings until we reached middle and high school. In the fall of 2009, she began PALCS for about a month. Without an IEP, she struggled in her classes. Thankfully, the principal of our school district’s elementary school recommended we test her for an IEP at Paxtonia Elementary School. At 12 years old, Cherise enrolled at Paxtonia. After completing her IEP tests, she was placed in a 4th grade classroom with 1st grade work.
She loved it. Every day, she met with a Special Ed teacher, thrived in her studies, and enjoyed the public school experience.
One might conclude that because traditional public school helped her succeed once, it would always be the best choice for her. This was not the case. Before Cherise turned 13 in August of 2010, the school district moved her to Central Dauphin Middle School so she could stay closer to her age group. Skipping 5th grade, Cherise found herself in a Special Ed 6th grade classroom.
On the spectrum of severely mentally disabled to normal, Cherise fell just short of normal. Many of her classmates, though, struggled with more complex or severe disabilities. As a result, the classroom proved difficult for her on account of many distractions, interruptions, and behavioral challenges from classmates. Added to that, she faced racist remarks on the school bus and witnessed other students face bullying and discrimination outside the classroom.
Do all public school students experience these circumstances? Absolutely not. However, for Cherise, it was the furthest thing from the thriving learning environment she deserved.
That’s when PALCS came back into the picture. At that time in her life, and for the right reasons, PALCS worked for Cherise. After finishing 6th grade, she transferred back to PALCS with her IEP and thrived in 7th grade. Ever since, Cherise has had the opportunity to job shadow with various local businesses, complete speech therapy, receive one-on-one help from teachers, meet consistently with a life skills teacher, increase her reading skills, and even take classes to earn an arts certificate when she graduates next spring.
I could not be more proud of Cherise and the hard work she’s done to learn and stretch herself. Were it not for school choice and the wonderful teachers and faculty who support it, she would not be where she is today. Her story makes clear that both traditional and cyber charter schools have something to offer students. Both systems exist for the student, and every student is unique. Therefore, whether students thrive in a traditional public school or in cyber charter school, school choice matters. Cherise can attest to that.
posted by BEN BYLER | 09:21 AM | Comments
Who are We?
The Commonwealth Foundation is Pennsylvania's free-market think tank. The Commonwealth Foundation transforms free-market ideas into public policies so all Pennsylvanians can flourish.
Earlier this month, House Majority Leader Dave Reed challenged his colleagues to change the way Harrisburg operates: “Now is the time to reimagine and redesign government, our state and our future.” A change in Harrisburg’s culture is surely needed. Decades of high taxes, wasteful ...