A friend just forwarded me some objections offered by a Republican member of the House of Representatives from a rural area who’s reluctant to support a comprehensive school choice bill this year. Since these concerns are very similar to those I’ve heard from others, I thought I’d share some of my thoughts here.
1. There’s a lot of gnashing of teeth over Senate Bill 1 (and a lot of headache-inducing details about it flying around). That’s a distraction. The issue isn’t any particular piece of legislation; it is whether you will support some reasonable combination of an expansion of the Educational Improvement Tax Credit and vouchers.
2. Lots of folks are saying they would walk over coals to expand the EITC but aren’t sure about vouchers. This is a dodge. Here’s the political reality, like it or not: An EITC expansion is not going to pass without vouchers for failing schools. The Governor and the Senate have been crystal clear on that; pretending otherwise does no good. And as the three following points show, vouchers for failing schools are a good thing—indeed, a great and transformative thing!
3. For those avowed EITC lovers from rural Pennsylvania: Vouchers for failing schools will actually help schools in rural areas that benefit from EITC funds. If students in areas with failing schools can use vouchers instead, they will use less EITC money, making more of it available for schools in rural areas.
4. Some are protesting that it’s illegitimate to provide vouchers for those in failing schools only. Universal school choice would be awesome, but so would Santa bringing my wife a brand-new minivan so I don’t have to scrimp and save for one. In the world in which we actually live, neither is going to happen. A combination of an EITC expansion and vouchers for failing schools is the biggest blow we can strike right now in terms of having the dollars follow the students. Holding out for a perfect bill sounds principled, but in practice, it means supporting the status quo.
5. This is the most important thing, and it’s the thing too many who (like me) don’t live near failing schools miss: It’s urgent that we address this crisis now. First of all, if you care about expanding the EITC—as many who are currently playing coy say—voting no on vouchers means that doesn’t happen in the foreseeable future. And if you care about rescuing kids who are subjected to a violent incident every 17 minutes—and in a way that saves money, far from costing us more—kicking the can down the road yet again means condemning over 80,000 students to a situation in which the three R’s are not reading, writing, and arithmetic but rapes, robberies, and riots.