If lawmakers were in any doubt about how dire Pennsylvania’s education crisis has become, they need only look to Harrisburg mother Taisha Bartow and her 5-year-old daughter, Alayaisha. Faced with a deeply indebted Harrisburg school district ready to ax its kindergarten program, and unable to afford private school, Bartow has been forced into a heartbreaking decision to give up partial custody to the child’s godmother and move her daughter to Baltimore.
Contrary to popular belief, this is not a problem borne of cuts to K-12 spending. In the last 15 years, spending has doubled to $26 billion a year—averaging $15,000 a student—while student scores have flat-lined. In Harrisburg, only two-thirds of students can read or do math at their grade level. Bartow’s eldest son won a ticket out—a scholarship to a private school—but her ‘A’-student younger son remains stuck in Harrisburg, bored in classes that move too slowly for his ability.
Sadly, Bartow is not alone. From Philadelphia to Erie, children are assigned to failing schools simply because of the digits in their ZIP code. Like Harrisburg, only about two-thirds of the 82,000 children in our worst 140 public schools are proficient in reading and math—and they endured a frightening 10,000 violent incidents from 2008-2010, translating to one every 17 minutes.
Stories like Alayaisha’s underscore how urgent it is for lawmakers to reach a principled compromise and pass new school choice legislation that expands the number of business tax credits for donating scholarship money. The bill would widen the current Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program, which serves 40,000 students but is maxed out at $75 million. It would also provide another $100 million for a new Education Improvement Scholarship Credit, which would serve students in public schools whose academic performance falls in the bottom-15 percent statewide.
Expanding business tax credits could prevent the wrenching separation between Bartow and her daughter and help families like them across Pennsylvania—before we lose more Alayaishas.