The Dollars and Sense of School Choice

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Every year, most Pennsylvania homeowners receive larger property tax bills due to increases in public school spending. In the nine school years from 1997 to 2006, school property taxes increased by 61%, or $3.6 billion—costing the average homeowner an additional $840 per year.

While public school spending routinely outpaces inflation and enrollment growth, several educational alternatives are delivering quality education for a fraction of the cost of traditional public school districts. Students in public charter schools, private schools, and home schools saved taxpayers more than $3 billion in the 2005-06 school year alone. The taxpayers of Pennsylvania could experience even more dramatic savings in school taxes if all parents were empowered to choose schools for their children outside the traditional public school system.

In order to offer substantive tax relief from ever-increasing school property taxes, policymakers in Harrisburg must seek ways to reduce school expenses. Without controlling expenditures, taxpayers will never realize real relief by simply shifting school tax revenue sources.

The solution? Give parents more choices in where their children can go to school. Under the current public school district assignment system—whereby children are assigned a public school based on where they live—most parents’ economic situation denies them the freedom to choose the best school for their children. By empowering families with the ability to choose from an array of choices among public, charter, private, and home schools—without financial penalty—policymakers in Harrisburg can reduce spending while providing a higher quality education to every young Pennsylvanian.

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The Commonwealth Foundation is an independent, non-profit public policy research and educational institute located in Harrisburg, PA.