Democratic gubernatorial candidate Josh Shapiro’s recently announced support for parental choice in education, together with Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano’s previously announced support of education funding following the child, is a historic first for Pennsylvania.
Just this month, Shapiro told a gathering of supporters that, if elected, he would support the Lifeline Scholarships program pending in the state legislature. His policy position is that he “favors adding choices for parents and educational opportunity for students and funding lifeline scholarships like those approved in other states and introduced in Pennsylvania.”
Mastriano states that he “will work with the legislature to finally bring school choice to Pennsylvania families, so that no child is trapped in a failing school ever again.”
This is a proud day for Pennsylvanians interested in educational equity. In a day and age when all too many issues surrounding our children and families are so polarizing here and across the nation, putting the needs of students first is more than just refreshing – it’s the pathway for a resurgence not just in education equity but economic equity. There is a correlation between the success of our students and reduction of intergenerational poverty. Years of research has confirmed what we see everyday in Philadelphia – when poor families have the opportunity to invest in their children, all futures get better. According to Unesco’s analysis, “Education mediates the influence of many other factors and is a major channel for intergenerational transmission of socio-economic status. Increased education mobility is associated with income growth and greater equality of opportunities.”
Currently, more than 25,000 under-resourced Philadelphia students – many who live in the lowest performing school neighborhoods – attend tuition-based schools, thanks to the state’s Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC) program. An additional 30,000 will benefit from a recent $125 million increase in the EITC/OSTC programs, which allow private citizens and corporations to receive state tax credits when they contribute to scholarship organizations. But there are over 200,000 more students whose worlds would immediately open up to new pathways with similar opportunities – call it a lifeline – for their future. That’s where the recent news about Attorney General Shapiro’s support is a new game-changer. As the person the pundits are predicting is most likely to be elected this November, Shapiro’s support for Lifeline Scholarships would ensure that whoever gets elected, the Commonwealth’s support for education of all types would be boundless.
The Lifeline Scholarship would enable students who live within attendance boundaries of low performing schools to pay for a qualified education expense. It is estimated that 70 percent of our families live in just such a school area. Rather than having to attend the local public school that may or may not work best for their child, parents would have the power to choose among private school tuition, fees, and uniforms; and fees for tutoring, instructional materials, technology, and other supportive services are included. Such programs exist in states like Arizona, Florida, Georgia and New Hampshire and were enacted with bi-partisan support. Not only do students who live in education choice states have access to quality, safe schooling, but the educational success of students rises across all schools where such programs exist.
The future success of our City and region is dependent upon providing students with the best educational experience possible at parent-selected schools that best suit their needs. Every year, thousands of families are trapped on scholarship wait lists at organizations like ours; those families deserve leaders who will prioritize their students right now, as well as in the future. Having both gubernatorial candidates supporting lifesaving education programs is consistent with the demand of Pennsylvania citizens, and could bring us one step closer to having real equity for students and families.
This piece was co-authored by Keisha Jordan (President and CEO, CSFP) and Dave Rowan (Chief Executive Officer, Business Leadership Organized for Catholic Schools)