Leveling the Education Landscape – Apr 19, 2024



We all want what’s best for children and teens. It’s the heart of the school choice debate that’s happening in Pennsylvania.

There are one million PA kids in under-resourced public schools, well over half of all the Commonwealth’s students. (It’s telling that they are also the lowest performing schools.) There is no debate that every single one of those students deserves the best education in a safe school with top-notch academic resources. 

The debate is over how we deliver that. There are two approaches being recommended to lawmakers: repair our traditional public school system or design a new network of private schools funded by vouchers.

Both approaches would cost a lot of money so, funding aside, let’s look at what we know about each approach and what it could possibly look like moving forward.

Private School Voucher System

For some school choice advocates, the only answer is removing students from failing schools to private or religious schools.

But it’s not that simple. We’re talking about a sytem change for 1,000,000,000 students. For every one of them to have an equal chance at a better education, PA would have to foot the bill for private and religious schools to build a whole new education infrastructure – schools, staff, and supplies to accommodate a million new kids. To keep these new schools at the top of their game, the vouchers from the state are going to be pricey. Who’s going to pay for all of that? 

The other unknown with this approach is will the students do better in private schools. Currently the state does not require private schools to report on academic status or progress so we don’t know if the $2.6 billion already spent through Pennsylvania’s two school voucher programs (EITC and OSTC) yielded results. With fierce opposition to requiring private and religous schools from reporting their student performance, the political reality of any real accountability is also in question.

Public School System

The one million students attending under-resourced public schools are facing crowded classrooms, outdated materials, and lack of technology. Change is needed to remedy that.

Unlike the private schools, we do know how public schools perform because we have statewide exams and transparent reporting. We also know that state education dollars make a huge difference because we’ve seen it happen. From 2003 to 2010, state funding for public school instruction increased by 62%. In the same time frame, PSSA scores improved by 60%.

With the infusion of much needed state dollars, Pennsylvania students made huge academic gains nationally. By 2008, Pennsylvania was the only state in the nation to make academic gains across the board on the National Assessment of Education Program (NAEP) and we continued to increase our ranking nearly every year till 2011.

How to Decide

If Pennsylvania is serious about giving every student – not just a select few – the best education, we need to put public and private schools on equal footing. That starts with funding and accountability. And until the legislature fully funds education, school choice is a false promise for the one million kids being denied their one chance at a quality K-12 education.

The Justice in Education fellows are asking for your support in the fight for fair education funding. Add your name to their legislative petition for equitable school funding and sign up for other ways you can have an impact.

He is proud of his lifestyle, and I don’t think that should be imposed upon our students, at any age.”

– Bud Shaffner, school board member in Cumberland County, on cancelling a guest speaker, author, and actor who is gay and was invited to talk about diversity and acceptance.

Important legislation is being considered that would require a blood screening for lead exposure of all children by the age of two. 

Join us at the Capitol next month to tell legislators and the media that SB 514 must pass NOW so young children poisoned by lead get early intervention. Register here.

School support staff work hard and deserve to
be paid a living wage
. That is paramount.
But we also must remember that support s
taff who earn enough to pay their bills and
make ends meet will be more likely to stick
with their jobs, providing our public school
students with friendly and familiar faces
year after year.”
– Yura Commodore, a high school
secretary in the William Penn School District