Sometimes, life presents “win-win” propositions, where all parties in a transaction benefit. School choice offers one of those opportunities to the citizens of Pennsylvania by offering new educational options, at a lower cost than traditional public schools.
This National School Choice Week, Jan. 20-26, we should remember how school choice helps future generations of Pennsylvanians, while saving money for current taxpayers too.
Multiple studies have demonstrated the way in which school choice scholarships, by directing funds to less costly alternatives to public education, reduce taxpayer costs.
For instance, Pennsylvania’s Opportunity Scholarship Program caps the amount of its scholarship at $8,500 per student, or the school’s actual cost of tuition and fees — whichever is less. In many cases, a school’s annual tuition falls below the $8,500 maximum, in which case taxpayers will save the difference.
Most school choice programs save money for state and local governments by using this type of funding structure. In fact, two papers released last year concluded that two different types of school choice scholarships have saved taxpayers between $4.9 billion and $6.6 billion. In most cases, these programs generated literally thousands of dollars of savings for every student using them.
Some critics of school choice believe that private scholarship programs undermine public education but the results suggest otherwise. In total, 33 studies have examined the educational outcomes of recipients who used their scholarships to attend private school compared to similar students who remained in public education. Of those 33 studies, all but two concluded that private school choice improved educational outcomes for the students who remained in public schools.
The innovation and competition sparked by school choice improved outcomes in private and public schools alike — a rising tide lifting all boats.
Other critics of choice might question whether private education undermines accountability. In reality, however, school choice provides parents with the ultimate form of accountability — the ability to change schools. If a school does not meet a scholarship recipient’s needs, that student’s parent can use those funds to find a school that will.
At the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, we believe in giving parents that power to determine the best educational option for their children. While some parents find our schools’ rigorous curricula and strong moral values appropriate for their children, other parents will select different options.
We fully support their freedom to do so, but we hope that every family, regardless of their location, income, background, or religious beliefs, will have that same freedom.
During National School Choice Week, parents, teachers, and students will gather at more than 40,000 events the week of Jan. 20-26. These events provide a forum to celebrate the way in which school choice has improved the lives of millions of American children.
In Pennsylvania, we should take pride in the way our scholarship programs have extended school choice to tens of thousands of children across the commonwealth. We will continue working to extend school choice to every family, and every child.
After all, because taxpayers benefit from school choice, we have few reasons not to expand, and our children’s future gives us every reason to do so.
Sean McAleer is the director of education for the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, the public affairs agency of Pennsylvania’s Catholic bishops and the Catholic dioceses of Pennsylvania.
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