Students Lose in the “City of Champions”

Pittsburgh Pirates fans recently gathered at PNC Park to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the 1979 World Series Championship. When it comes to sports, people in the “City of Champions” are rightly proud of the Steelers (6-time Super Bowl champs), Penguins (5-time winners of the Stanley Cup), and Pirates (5-time World Series champions, although it’s admittedly been a while).

Tragically, when it comes to its public school system, Pittsburgh has a long way to go before it wins the title of “champion.”

Pittsburgh Superintendent Anthony Hamlet made headlines recently, but not in a good way. This spring, he brought some other Pittsburgh educators on an unauthorized vacation to Cubapotentially violating three district policies. This wasn’t Hamlet’s first financial impropriety. Since becoming superintendent, Hamlet has spent “millions on dozens of contracts without competitive review,” which may explain why he violated state law by not filing financial disclosures. His recently filed disclosure statements show he’s been a paid consultant for companies he awarded contracts to.

While the financial scandals are new, it’s no secret that district schools are failing their students academically. In 2017, PennCAN released “Opportunities Lost: The urgent need to improve Pittsburgh’s schools,” which detailed the lack of progress in the district. The most recent state test results confirm the problem, with 54% of students scoring below proficient in reading and 71% in math. Results are particularly poor for the district’s black students, as evidenced by the wide achievement gap documented in the “Opportunities Lost” report.

School administrators take illegitimate vacations while Pittsburgh’s lowest-income students wait and wait for a legitimate education. They need immediate relief.

Fortunately, there’s a solution. The Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC) programs are already helping thousands of children throughout Pennsylvania. These programs provide families the opportunity to expand their choice of schools and find the best fit for their child.

Last year, 49,000 scholarship applications were denied due to government caps, but there is hope. The 2019-20 state budget included a $25 million increase to EITC and a $5 million increase to OSTC. Why stop there? A $25 million increase could help as many as 12,500 kids, but expanding the EITC and OSTC program by $100 million might help all of the kids who were rejected.

Kids shouldn’t lose out on a quality education because of their zip code. In the “City of Champions” and beyond, every student deserves a top-notch education. School choice empowers families to achieve that goal.