Massive Strategic Victory for Kids

I’ve long been convinced that Thomas Jefferson was exactly right when he wrote, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”  The teachers I had as a boy changed my life, and because of them, I became a teacher myself.  Today, as a father of four, I know more than ever that education matters immensely – not just for our children, but for our civilization.

Back in the late 1990s, I left the classroom and entered the political world.  And what led me to do so was my desire to make sure that America – the most prosperous, most generous, and freest nation that has ever existed – is not only preserved but made even better for my kids and, hopefully, grandkids.  In a nutshell, it was the decline of our education system that compelled me to get on the policy battlefield.  In fact, my first post-teaching job was as a full-time fighter for school choice at a think tank in Michigan.

I believe that the keys to improving our educational system will not be found in simply changing the rules governing our public school system or spending more money.  We’ve tried that.  What are tragically missing are more choices for the consumers of education and more competition among the providers – critical incentives that drive continuous quality improvement in so many other areas of our lives.

That’s why I was so sure two years ago, when both major-party nominees for governor came out in favor of increased school choice, that we at the Commonwealth Foundation had a huge opportunity on our hands that we absolutely could not waste.  That’s why my colleagues and I have poured ourselves into fighting for a significant expansion of school choice these many months.  That’s why I have sat in front of countless successful, smart people and asked them to part with their hard-earned money in order to fuel this fight.  That’s why I have begged so many legislators to stand up to government union bosses and do the right thing by voting for school choice.  And that’s why I am so delighted that on June 30, we won a massive strategic victory.

Let me repeat that:  I consider what just happened in Pennsylvania on the school choice front to be a massive strategic victory.

Yes, yes, I know what you’ve already heard – that government union bosses and other profiteers of our one-size-fits-all school system thwarted a push for school vouchers.  That is true.  But the joke is on them.  They didn’t defeat us at all.  We got a huge expansion of school choice, and it will serve even more children than the voucher plan for which we fought so hard for so long.

That “it” is the single largest increase in Pennsylvania’s Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program since its inception in 2001.  The doubling of this school choice program to $150 million in this year’s state budget will enable 20,000 to 60,000 more children to use privately-funded scholarships to escape some of the most violent and worst performing schools in our state.  In comparison, it was estimated that previously considered voucher proposals would help 2,200 students in the first year and 10,000 in the second.

Don’t get me wrong:  That was worth fighting for, too.  When it comes to school choice, CF is ecumenical, and since our founding in 1988 we have fought for all of the ways in which Pennsylvania has dramatically increased educational options:  charter schools, cyber charter schools, and the Educational Improvement Tax Credit.  The funding mechanism is far less important than the desired result:  giving parents more educational options for their children.  And that’s what just happened, in a big way.

By continuing to increase tax credit-funded scholarships we will also help curb the price-inflation of public schooling that taxpayers are experiencing in the form of higher taxes – particularly property taxes.  Today, taxpayers are paying, on average, more than $15,000 to educate – or, often, not to educate – each public school student in the state.  But by allowing more kids to use privately-funded scholarships to move from higher-cost public schools to lower-cost alternatives, we can slow or even reverse the need for ever-increasing taxes.

Under the current system, the government assigns children to the schools it runs – and the establishment passes the buck or blames everyone else when they fail to educate the children in their care.  School choice means schools must deliver a quality education now – not in another five, 10 or 20 years – or watch their students leave for better schools.

That is why I left the classroom.  That is why I have been fighting for freedom, and particularly for school choice, full time ever since.  That is why I am celebrating the huge victory CF and our allies just won for tens of thousands of students.  And that is why I will keep fighting until all parents have the freedom to choose the best and safest school for their children.

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Matthew J. Brouillette is the president and CEO of the Commonwealth Foundation (, Pennsylvania’s free-market think tank.