Is Choice Harming Public Schools?

The Philadelphia Inquirer ran a story this week about the number of students (314,000 over nine years) served by Pennsylvania’s Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC). The EITC provides tax credits to businesses giving scholarships to low- and moderate-income students and grant to educational improvement organizations.

The story then asks the question of whether school choice has harmed public schools, as union talking-points always allege. While admitting the EITC has not hurt school districts, Tim Allwein of the school boards’ association still complains that the scholarship portion of the tax credit is bigger than the EIO portion.

Tim Allwein, assistant executive director of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, said that while he also did not believe the program had hurt public schools, his group does have some concerns.

The group would prefer that public schools receive as much aid as is distributed through scholarships, for example. And Allwein said there should be more accountability in terms of how the scholarship money was spent.

To get a feel for what he is talking about, here is a pie chart showing EITC scholarship funding in blue, EITC EIO funding in red, and public school spending (2007-08) in green. Do you see why Allwein is so upset that the blue slice is bigger than the red slice?

Seriously, there are red and blue slices in this pie chart. No, I didn’t forget to put those numbers in the data set, they are just represented in proportion to public school spending. I’m telling you, they’re in there.


PA School Spending and EITC

Ok, I guess maybe you get the point that the $75 million EITC is dwarfed by the $24 billion spent by public schools. Indeed, rather than harm public schools, the EITC helps them reduce overcrowding, taking on students who are looking for better options, and saves money – the average EITC scholarship is $1,100, compared with school district spending of $13,000 per pupil.

Amazingly, though, to help balance the budget, the EITC was reduced by $15 million last year; state basic education subsidies to school districts was increased by $300 million. This year the EITC will be reduce by another $10 million, while Gov. Rendell proposed a state basic education subsidy increase of $350 million. Here is another chart, to put those numbers in perspective:

PA Education Budget and EITC

Indeed any complaint from school boards about not getting their fair share of EITC funding is like Jabba the Hutt calling Oliver Twist a glutton for saying “Please sir, I want some more.”