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.

Recent Issues

State Budget Solution #3: Student-Focused Education Funding

As lawmakers and Gov. Wolf seek to restructure state government this budget season, they should commit to refocusing education spending to provide the greatest opportunity to Pennsylvania students.

A Christmas Wish List for Pennsylvania

“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.

Embracing Innovation in State Government

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.

Recent Blog Posts

Op-Ed: Is the Sky Falling on Children's Education?

What child hasn’t heard the story of Chicken Little? His encounter with a falling acorn leads him mistakenly to conclude the sky is falling. Mass hysteria ensues when his friends buy in to his doom-saying. Unfortunately, misguided panic isn’t confined to fairy tales.

In the aftermath of Betsy DeVos’s confirmation as Secretary of Education, opponents predict she could decimate public education. DeVos is a well-known school choice advocate who believes in empowering parents and students with options. Unfortunately, critics view this not as a step forward but as a disaster.

But here’s one thing DeVos’s supporters and detractors agree on: Every student deserves access to a quality education. The goal is not in question, only the means.

Their perspective is misguided, unsupported by facts, and ultimately harmful for the future of American education.

But here’s one thing DeVos’s supporters and detractors agree on: Every student deserves access to a quality education. The goal is not in question, only the means.

Some believe traditional public schools assigned to students based on their zip code can meet every student’s individual needs—every time, in every town in America, in every situation.

Advocates of choice, though, believe traditional public schools work well for some students, but public charter schools, private schools, cyber schools, home schools, or some combination of these work best for others. And proponents of choice have the evidence on their side.

Indeed, when educational options increase, students perform better, traditional public schools improve, and taxpayers save money.

For proof, look no further than Pennsylvania’s highly popular Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC) programs, which allow businesses to direct a portion of their tax liability to fund scholarships to families dissatisfied with their assigned public school. Since 2001, more than 500,000 such scholarships have been awarded.

The results? Of 18 studies of educational choice scholarship programs nationwide, 14 found they improved academic performance.

Beyond the studies, the students are the real evidence. At St. Francis de Sales School in West Philadelphia, for example, students are excited to learn, and their academic achievements are inspiring—despite the obstacles they face. Of 500 students at St. Francis, 74 percent are low-income, and many are immigrants, hailing from 45 countries.

Tuition runs only $3,700, with a total cost per student of $4,800. Even so, most students at St. Francis would be unable to afford tuition if not for the EITC and OSTC programs.

Traditional public schools also benefit from educational options. Of 33 studies of the impact of school choice scholarship programs on public schools, 31 found public schools actually improve as a result of choice. In Philadelphia, for example, traditional schools are exploring ways to improve their offerings to compete with public charter schools.

Far from fearing choice, we should expand educational options for all Pennsylvania students

What’s more, school choice makes fiscal sense. EITC and OSTC scholarships are roughly $2,000 per student. Meanwhile, school district funding per student is nearly $16,000 on average. As a result, the EITC alone saved Pennsylvania taxpayers more than $1 billion from 2002 to 2014, according to a recent audit by EdChoice.

Far from fearing choice, we should expand educational options for all Pennsylvania students. The thousands on waitlists for charter schools already show demand is there. That’s why HB 250, sponsored by House Speaker Mike Turzai, seeks to increase EITC and OSTC contribution caps so even more students benefit.

Lawmakers should also explore Education Savings Accounts (ESAs)—a path-breaking program that provides flexible funding to parents to customize their child’s education. Under this policy, funds earmarked for a child’s K-12 education are deposited into an account controlled by parents and supervised by the state.

These funds may be spent on a variety of educational services, including but not limited to private school tuition, tutoring, online programs, and even programs offered by local school districts. ESAs have been enacted in five states so far, with legislation introduced or pending in many others—including the Pennsylvania State House. 

When it comes to children’s futures, we must progress beyond the mindset that the public education system exists to prop up buildings or bureaucrats.

Instead, we must put children first. As DeVos has said, “Let the education dollars follow each child, instead of forcing the child to follow the dollars.” Too many students in our great state are forced to follow the dollars.

With DeVos’s confirmation, students and parents in Pennsylvania and across the nation can have renewed hope that the education policies coming from Washington, D.C., will ensure our education system serves students, not the reverse.

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posted by James Paul | 11:08 AM

Breaking: Charters Receive Funding to Educate Students

Advocacy group Education Voters of PA—notorious critics of parental choice and defenders of a one-size-fits-all education system—made a few headlines recently by selecting two columns of data from the Department of Education and using them to create a skewed narrative on charter schools.

It takes two points to form a straight line, but the group took one point alone—school district spending on charter school tuition—and neglected the second critical point: charter school enrollment.

Some news outlets picked up on this research and concluded that charter schools are disproportionately draining funds from school districts.

Charter schools, particularly online “cyber charters” have increasingly been blamed for school district financial woes, with administrators contending charters siphon much-needed money from district coffers.

Does this conclusion have merit? In short, no.

Education Voters rightly notes that charter school payments increased by $680 million, or 85 percent, between 2009 and 2015. You may be thinking, “680 million? That sounds like a lot!”

Yet, over the same six-year period, charter enrollment across Pennsylvania increased by 78 percent—from 72,000 students to nearly 130,000. In other words, districts are sending more money to charters because charters are attracting more students from districts. This is not groundbreaking. And it shouldn’t be alarming that charter payments increased by 85 percent when charter enrollment increased by 78 percent.

But don’t assume public schools receive less money as a result. First of all, charters receive roughly 20 percent less per-student funding than traditional district schools. And secondly, despite the Education Voters' website propagating the debunked myth that $1 billion in education funding was cut in 2011, total revenue in Pennsylvania’s school districts increased by nearly $3 billion between 2009 and 2015. 

Advocates of the educational status-quo are prone to scapegoat charter schools as the cause of their troubles, but the truth is the biggest cost driver for school districts isn’t charters but pension payments— which increased by $1.8 billion, or 337 percent over the six-year window. 

Pension reform is the best way to alleviate financial pressure on school districts. Additionally, school board members must rely on prudent budgeting and fiscal responsibility at the bargaining table.

We can improve our public school system only by tackling real reforms, not by targeting charter schools using selective data. Shoddy attacks on charters only punish the children and families who have discovered the school that best fits their needs

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posted by James Paul | 10:00 AM

Education Savings Accounts Across the Country

The movement to provide children with better education is building momentum in 2017 as education savings accounts (ESA) advance in nearly a dozen states. Legislation has been filed in Arizona, Arkansas, Indiana, Iowa, New Hampshire, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Texas to empower families by providing them with access to this groundbreaking school choice policy.  

ESAs take various forms, yet share the same solid principle – parents should have more freedom to choose the best education for their children.

ESA programs operate by placing most or all of the state’s per-pupil cost into a fund or on a debit card. Parents can use these ESA dollars on the school they choose (private, home, cyber, etc.), educational materials, tutoring, and transportation. Any remaining ESA funds are carried over to the next school year, incentivizing responsible use. These programs, often specifically designed for students with special needs, can prove life-changing and enjoy significant support among Americans.

In 2011, Arizona became the first state with an ESA program when it started its Empowerment Scholarship Accounts. Students can receive up to 90% of their state education funds, but eligibility has remained restricted and primarily serves students with special needs, those from military families, and those attending the worst-performing schools. However, this year Arizona’s state legislature has introduced a bill that would make eligibility universal, creating new opportunities for every student.

In Arkansas, called “school choice country” by lieutenant governor Tim Griffin, lawmakers are considering a bill which would create an ESA program funded entirely by tax-exempt private donations. Though governor Asa Hutchinson has not yet signaled support for the pro-student legislation, reports show that it would be an affordable way to provide school choice to thousands of Arkansas students.

Finally, Iowa’s new legislative majority and governor are optimistic about achieving greater educational opportunity and freedom, including through ESAs, which are strongly supported by pro-school choice Iowans. New ESA legislation is in the works to benefit Iowa students, including those from low-income families.

Across America, the movement for better education continues to gain ground, build support, and improve lives. Pennsylvania has long been a leader in providing school choice options to families, but initiatives across the country should inspire the commonwealth to do more to provide ESAs to students in need.

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posted by Kris Malysz, James Paul | 01:00 PM