For several months, the political leadership of Pennsylvania has shown increasing bipartisan support for school choice, particularly for scholarships that provide private learning options for low-income students. That trend continued Tuesday when Democratic Senator Anthony Williams and Republican Jeffrey Piccola released the details of a plan that would give public or private school choices to low-income students from low-achieving public schools. The criticism from leaders such as outgoing Gov. Ed Rendell was largely predictable. But the opposition at least gives us the opportunity to ask the question: Is it more politically advantageous to design a voucher or tax credit scholarship plan tied to failing public schools or one that simply empowers disadvantaged families?
RedefinED host Doug Tuthill would argue for the latter, and he did just that in October before a Pennsylvania Senate committee hearing testimony on the future of school choice in the state. In three years, the Williams-Piccola proposal would open the scholarships to all-low-income students, but initially only those attending schools judged as persistently failing would be eligible.
Why do legislators believe it’s politically necessary to tie a voucher to school performance? Florida nearly stands alone in the substantial Democratic support backing tax credit scholarships for low-income children and vouchers for special-needs students, and neither program requires a public school to be labeled a “failure.”
“Limiting parental empowerment to failing schools is an imprecise way to identify low-income students who need a different learning option, and it encourages parental empowerment to be framed as a public versus private school issue,” Doug said in testimony to Pennsylvania senators. “The best schools in the world fail some students. These students need school choice, too.”
Here are Doug’s full comments to the senate committee: