This time of year there is a lot of talk about taxing and spending here in Harrisburg. The state legislature and the governor just agreed upon a $27.5 billion spending plan for the 2007-2008 budget, including $9.4 billion for education.
The Commonwealth Foundation for Public Policy Alternatives, a Harrisburg-based think tank, recently released a policy brief that is renewing the call for school choice. The Dollars and Sense of School Choice report supports several conclusions:
- Per-pupil expenditures are substantially higher, and continue to rise more rapidly in traditional public schools than public charter, private, and home schools.
In the 2005-2006 school year, public school districts spend, on average, nearly $11, 500 per student. The average cost per student in Catholic schools is far less.
- Alternative schools help relieve the strain on both state and local public education budgets and taxpayers.
If every student who attends a non-public school now returned to their traditional public school, it would cost the taxpayers an additional $3.073 billion.
- The Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) empowers parents to send their children to a school of choice, and does so while saving taxpayer money and leaving public schools better funded.
Since its inception, the EITC has given opportunities to thousands of families. Assuming a fair number of scholarship recipients would not have attended non-public schools without the assistance, the report concludes that for each dollar in EITC tax credits, public school districts save at least $1.89 in instructional costs alone.
- School choice proposals such as the Property Tax Relief Scholarship Act would provide greater choices to parents, while providing property tax relief to homeowners for each student who migrates from a district school to a school of choice.
This legislative proposal would create a scholarship fund from which $3,000 scholarships would be made available to low income families to send their children to the school of their choice. Per-pupil expenditures far exceed the $3,000 allotment. The public school could return the difference to the taxpayers, providing property tax relief and taking some of the strain off the budget.
This proposal will be under consideration in the fall.
School choice is about more than the money. As the Commonwealth Foundation report says, “Educational choice gives parents the ability to choose the school that best meets their child’s needs, whether their goal is to remove their child from a failing or unsafe school or simply select an institution that better caters to their child’s specific educational needs.”
Catholic schools have provided parents with an excellent alternative to traditional public schools for generations. Catholic school students excel in math, reading and other skills. They go on to attend college at a very high rate and graduation levels are second to none. Many parents would love to send their children to Catholic schools, but because of economic constraints do not.
School choice makes sense. It’s time for Pennsylvania to reconsider this solution.
PCC Column August 2007 by Amy Beisel, Communications Director of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference – the public affairs arm of Pennsylvania’s Catholic bishops and the Catholic dioceses of Pennsylvania.