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  • In Pennsylvania, Rival State Leaders Converge on School Choice

    Pennsylvania residents in this year’s gubernatorial race will be casting their votes for school choice regardless of their political affiliation.

    In Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal, author Bill McGurn reports that both Democratic candidate Dan Onorato and his Republican opponent, state Attorney General Tom Corbett, are proponents of school choice.

    It is promising to see states opening more opportunity for the educational futures of children. For decades, the federal government has poured increasing amounts of money into public education under the guise of “reform,” yet test scores and achievement indicate no sign of improvement. As author Robert J. Samuelson writes this week in The Washington Post:

    Since the 1960s, waves of “reform” haven’t produced meaningful achievement gains. … The reading and math tests, graded on a 0–500 scale, measure 9-year-olds, 13-year-olds and 17-year-olds. In 1971, the initial year for the reading test, the average score for 17-year-olds was 285; in 2008, the average score was 286. The math test started in 1973, when 17-year-olds averaged 304; in 2008, the average was 306.”

    Furthermore, the achievement gap hasn’t budged since the 1980s. And this is with triple the amount of federal education spending since 1970.

    Despite the failed efforts on the federal level, some states—now including Pennsylvania—are taking important steps toward successful reform. For example, Florida implemented a suite of reforms, including elements such as school choice and performance pay for teachers. As a result, test scores have climbed and the achievement gap has narrowed.

    Another successful reform has been the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which provides vouchers for low-income students to attend a private or charter school of their choice. These students have also scored significantly better than their peers on standardized tests and are significantly more likely to graduate from high school.

    Yet the same D.C. politicians who tout reform have let this successful program languish due to pressure from teachers unions. Apparently, what “reform” means in Washington is business-as-usual politics. This leaves little room to wonder why federal reforms have failed time and again to boost student achievement.

    Unfortunately, the Obama Administration’s latest reform effort—Race to the Top—would tie schools closer to Washington by requiring national education standards and would inevitably lead to increased red tape for schools.

    Instead of looking to Washington for reform, as McGurn points out:

    States and cities are the real engines of reform, and the Pennsylvania developments are another sign that the school choice movement is alive and well.

    Now, let’s just hope Washington can stay far enough away to allow this real reform to flourish.

    Posted in Education [slideshow_deploy]

    One Response to In Pennsylvania, Rival State Leaders Converge on School Choice

    1. Otto V. Banks, Execu says:

      Dear Editor -

      As author Bill McGurn stated, this is indeed "an encouraging season for education reform," particularly in our state of Pennsylvania. Both gubernatorial candidates have voiced their support of the school choice movement, and in particular, their support of school vouchers.

      With this in mind, I believe it is very important to pay close attention to the verbiage used by candidates when discussing school choice. A gubernatorial candidate can not truly support school vouchers or grants, no matter what they are called, until he expressly states that he will insert school voucher spending into his first year's budget. Then and only then will I believe that candidates are truly supportive of education reform in Pennsylvania.

      In the 2009 state budget, our existing school choice program, the Educational Tax Credit (EITC) Program, was cut by $15 million and 6,000 scholarships were lost in Pennsylvania. This year, the EITC was slated for an additional $10 million reduction, but the General Assembly was able to circumvent the planned reduction and maintain funding.

      Vouchers empower low-income families, who live in communities where access to quality public education is unavailable and will be key to improving Pennsylvania's educational system. Pending legislation sponsored by Sen. Anthony H. Williams would provide school choice scholarships to low-income students in districts with a failing school. Our schoolchildren deserve a strong commitment from candidates on the issue of school choice. While I am very encouraged that Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial candidates are voicing support for school vouchers, all of us in the school choice community will be watching closely in hopes that a funding commitment is tied to this support.


      Otto V. Banks

      Executive Director

      REACH Alliance & Foundation

      Harrisburg, PA

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