Friendly Mis-Fire on School Choice

School Choice RallyIn a column, Chris Freind attacked Senate Bill 1, the Piccola-Williams “Opportunity Scholarship Act.” Having obviously neglected to tune into our webcast on SB 1 with Sen. Piccola, Freind makes a number of factual errors.

First, he claims the bill would limit school choice to only low-income families—but that is only true of the voucher component.

The bill also expands the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) to $100 million, $75 million for the scholarship portion (vs. about $40 million this year). The eligibility would be $60,000 (up from the current $50,000) + $10,000 per child. That is, a family with four kids could receive an EITC scholarship with an income up to $100,000—that covers a lot of Pennsylvanians. In fact, I would expect the EITC to serve more students across the state than would the voucher portion of the bill, even in year three.

Second, he attacks Sen. Williams on this issue, claiming that Williams only supports choice because of his campaign backers: “Williams, up to that point, had never been a leader on school choice.”

Freind has obviously not been paying attention. Tony Williams won’t be mistaken for a free-market conservative, but he has been a champion for school choice across Pennsylvania for many years, from championing the EITC to pushing school choice for all. In fact, like Sen. Piccola, he would gladly support a universal school choice program, and have every dollar in education follow the child.

Third, the claim that SB 1 is just an attempt to cater to the “Black Caucus” is absurd. The list of co-sponsors include Senators Alloway, Lisa Baker, Browne, Brubaker, Eichelberger, Erickson, Folmer, Pileggi, Pippy, Rafferty, Scarnati, Smucker, Stack, Washington, and Don White.

Of those, only Leanna Washington is part of the “Black Caucus” (as Brad Bumsted noted, Washington opposed the voucher plan 16 years ago). Michael Stack is another Philadelphia Democrat, but prevented from joining the Black Caucus for obvious reasons. Those two only signed on Tuesday at the rally for choice. The other co-sponsors are clearly white Republicans representing suburban and rural parts of Pennsylvania.

Finally, Freind’s argument about the teachers unions’ power contradicts his argument. The PSEA isn’t raising union dues and trying to hire additional Harrisburg lobbyists because SB 1 is so small and meaningless, but because it substantially undermines their monopoly power.

Indeed if Freind, and others that agree with him, think that SB 1 doesn’t go far enough—and Pennsylvania needs, and can enact, broader school choice—why not call for legislators to improve SB 1. Instead of arguing lawmakers should oppose a positive move for choice, how about suggesting that they offer a broader proposal with universal/near universal choice. If that’s easier to pass, as Freind indicates, surely he can find one lawmaker to push the proposal.