The Data Quality Campaign recently released “Show Me the Data,” a comparison of state report cards in which Pennsylvania’s new Future Ready PA Index fared well. Released last November, Future Ready PA is a sharp-looking, user-friendly website that makes it easy to search for demographic, performance, safety, and special education data for schools and districts. You can even compare up to eight schools on a variety of metrics.
All in all, it looks like an impressive tool. However, information is only helpful if you can act on it.
Sure, parents can see how their child’s school is performing in various areas, but most can’t do anything with the results. How helpful is it to learn that your school is failing several benchmarks if you don’t have an education alternative?
To really prepare children for the future, we need to give them more educational options. Studies show that giving parents control over their children’s education improves test scores, graduation rates, and attendance—all goals of the Wolf administration’s Every Student Succeeds Act plan.
Here are three ways Pennsylvania leaders can expand choice and empower students to pursue the education that gives them the best chance for a bright future.
Expand Tax Credits
Pennsylvania students currently have limited access to school choice options through tax credit scholarships and charter schools. However, state and local government policies severely limit the availability of these programs.
For example, thousands of families have benefited from Pennsylvania’s Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC) programs. But thousands more are turned away each year due to arbitrary caps on available tax credits. To put Pennsylvania kids on a path to a better future, Governor Wolf should support allowing the tax credit scholarship programs to grow to meet demand.
Education Scholarship Accounts
If the governor really wants to revolutionize education in Pennsylvania, education scholarship accounts (ESAs) are the way to go. These innovative accounts allow education funding to follow the child, rather than forcing the child to follow the money. By bringing flexibility and customization to education, ESAs empower teachers, parents, and students.
Independently Authorize Charter Schools
On the charter school front, allowing independent authorizers is crucial for charters to fulfill their potential of offering real alternatives for students. Under the current system, school districts decide which charter schools are approved. While there is a state appeal board, it is a time consuming and expensive process. The lengthy waiting lists at many charter schools show this system isn’t working for students. Independent authorizers would avoid that conflict of interest.
If we’re to believe its name, the goal of the Future Ready PA Index is to prepare Pennsylvania students for the future. But the future of education clearly lies in more choice.
Governor Wolf’s flashy new tool is only valuable if parents can actually use the information. Comparing schools isn’t enough. We need to empower parents to choose the education that best fits their kids.