Gov. Wolf likes to talk about getting every child a quality education no matter their zip code. Speaker Mike Turzai just unveiled a plan that would turn that platitude into reality for kids trapped in Harrisburg schools.
After years of dismal academic outcomes and incompetent management, the Harrisburg school district was put under state oversight in 2012. But nothing changed. Only 16% of high schoolers are reading at grade level and 11% of 3rd through 8th graders are proficient in math. Violence is also a problem in the district. It’s been so bad for so long that in June the state took over the district completely.
Charter schools are an alternative for some, but the state-appointed receiver—following Wolf’s lead—has made it clear she doesn’t have much faith in Harrisburg parents and is fighting to keep charters from opening.
Speaker Turzai wants to give parents the ability to escape Harrisburg schools without a permission slip from local officials. His new proposal would provide scholarships of $7,100 for Harrisburg students to use at the private school of their choice. The scholarships would be funded with just half of the $8,200 per-student state subsidy to the district plus an additional $3,000 in state funds. The district would keep the other half—$4,100—without having to educate the child.
Meanwhile, Harrisburg school district spends a staggering $22,500 per student, or $450,000 for a classroom of 20.
Similar programs, such as the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program—the first modern school choice program—are extremely popular and have produced tremendous academic and non-academic outcomes. For instance, Milwaukee students in the choice program outperform their peers on the ACT .
Harrisburg parents have been waiting for years for schools to improve. They shouldn’t have to wait on another years-long turnaround plan.
But they will if Wolf gets his way. Speaking to the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, the governor’s spokesman J.J. Abbott immediately condemned Turzai’s plan, and Rep. Patty Kim called it a “distraction.”
Turzai’s scholarship program will empower parents and students sidelined by a broken system. That’s not a distraction—that’s a solution. And Harrisburg families need it now.