Philly Exodus Spells the Need for School Choice

Philadelphia’s population is growing. In fact, Philly’s population has grown for 11 consecutive years according to the U.S. Census Bureau and highlighted recently in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Population growth in a city is generally positive. But in Philadelphia’s case, 100 percent of the growth is due to birth rates exceeding death rates—which is cause for concern. More people are moving out of the city than are moving in; families, specifically families with school-age children, are leaving the city at a rate of nearly 3-to-1.

Young adults are drawn to the city in part because of the vast array of quality higher education options. That changes as people settle down to raise families. As Villanova University economist Cheryl Carleton told the Inquirer, “It’s great when you’re young, but once you have school-age kids, it all gets dicey. The public schools are not doing well, and people don’t see that changing.” With limited options outside of the local public school, these young families move out of the city and into better school districts.

(Chart: Philadelphia Migration, 2011-2017)

For families who remain in Philadelphia, many seek educational alternatives for their children. This demand has been partially met through private and charter schools. When it comes to private schools, many parents rely heavily on the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC) programs. Since the inception of EITC in 2001, more than 570,000 scholarships have been awarded to Pennsylvania students. Tragically, thousands of children in Philadelphia miss out on this option each year as scholarship organizations run out of money due to arbitrary caps set by the state. Increasing available tax credits would give these students more educational options. Passage of education savings accounts would be even more transformative.

Parents attempting to choose the best charter school for their children run into similar problems. At one popular charter school, 9,190 students recently applied for 96 available spots. Despite this demonstrated need for more charter options, the Philadelphia School Reform Commission has continually put up roadblocks to new charters. As Mayor Kenney prepares to name a new school board by April 5, he should ensure it is one that will empower Philadelphia parents with more educational options.

Families are a vital component of a vibrant city. There is no reason to let failing schools push families into the suburbs when there are other options available. Expanding educational choice will encourage families with children to stay in the city, as well as helping the families who cannot afford to leave. When parents are empowered to choose the best education for their child, everyone wins.