The Razor’s Edge of School Choice

The outcry for school choice isn’t isolated to major cities like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. From the City of Brotherly Love to our capitol, from the farms of Lebanon County to the shores of Erie, parents throughout the commonwealth are desperate for alternatives to failing, violent and underperforming public schools.

When Vicky Miller and her daughter Emalie moved to Harrisburg because of a job and financial necessity, they considered their educational options. Five elementary schools in Harrisburg City School District returned PSSA scores with no more than 35 percent of students proficient in reading and math, including the one Emalie would attend.

“Their PSSA scores were extremely low,” said Miller. “When I questioned the principal about it, he didn’t have an answer for me.”

But the red flags kept coming.  Not only was academic performance low in these elementary schools, but many were dangerous as well, greeting visitors with guards and metal detectors, said Miller.

“For a parent or child to think that they are going to go to a place and end up dead or at least threatened isn’t a great learning environment and that needs to change,” said Michael Geer, president of the Pennsylvania Family Institute.

And change was exactly what Vicky had to scrape up, pinching every penny she could in order to find an educational lifeline.  It came in the form of paying for Cathedral School in Harrisburg.

Vicky, a single mother, was barely able to scrape every penny she had to cover Emalie’s parochial school tuition. But in doing so, she knows she walks on the razor’s edge, fearing that just one minor setback would knock a good education out of the realm of possibility.

Although guaranteeing her daughter a quality education was financially burdensome and emotionally draining, Vicky has no qualms with her decision. In fact, she has already seen returns on her investment.  Emalie went from a Title I reading program (remedial) at her former public school to excelling in reading and math in just five months at Cathedral School, said Miller.

But Vicky acknowledges she and Emalie are the lucky ones. Many of her neighbors and fellow Pennsylvanians have not been able to make ends meet and remain trapped in violent and underperforming or failing schools due to their ZIP code.

Joy Herbert and Lorenzo White, heavily involved but frustrated parents in Philadelphia, don’t have the resources to send their children to private schools there. School choice options like vouchers would rescue their children from violent and underperforming schools, they say, as well as help parents like Vicky who are barely able to get by.

“It should be a choice because every child has a right to receive quality education,” she insisted. “It’s more one-on-one and they’re not a number. Choice has worked very well for us.”

Vicky is thankful that she was able to get her daughter into a private school early, but it is a success story still in progress, still walking the razor’s edge. Parents like her across the commonwealth are begging for their legislators to throw them a lifeline, so they don’t have to throw in the towel when it comes to educating their children.