Imagine if each day across Pennsylvania, including your own community, all the students going off to school felt good about their schools. Imagine if parents and guardians had faith in that school and had happily chosen that school because they believed it was safe and helping their child learn. Imagine the positive impact on those students, on those parents, on each community.

Imagine if politicians focused on student success instead of power and politics. What if politicians focused less on the school’s name on the diploma and focused on making sure more students received diplomas — and could read them? What if the true goal of public education — taxpayer-supported education — was making sure every child had the opportunity to succeed? The opportunity to reach his or her potential?

There may be as many as 100,000 students across our state — including many in your county — who don’t feel good about their school and whose parents are anxious about each school day. 

About 100,000 students are not going to their school because their parents or guardians selected it, but because they’re forced to go there due to where they live. Their parents wanted to send them to a different school, but the Pennsylvania charter schools they wanted had government-imposed enrollment caps, or the business tax-supported scholarship program had a government-imposed limit.

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According to the most recently published data from the Department of Education and professional organizations monitoring applications, up to 40,000 students applied to and were eligible for a given Charter School, but “too many” children applied. Under Pennsylvania law, a “lottery” is then held. Each school literally pulls numbers to select students. As many as 40,000 didn’t get selected — nearly 20,000 in Philadelphia alone. Those children are placed on “waiting lists.” Philadelphia’s “waiting list” is almost as big as the entire Pittsburgh School District. Attend a “lottery” and be prepared to be rocked emotionally.

I use quotes in the phrase “too many” children applied because the enrollment numbers at many Philadelphia charter schools are not set by the school’s principal or trustees or the fire department. The lower-than-capacity number is set by the Philadelphia School District — officials who don’t like charter schools and don’t want competition.

So, about 20,000 students in Philadelphia and thousands more across Pennsylvania couldn’t attend the school their parents chose and they were eligible to attend because bureaucrats with a political agenda blocked them. It’s as if McDonald’s was able to decide where Chick-Fil-A can open and how many customers they’re allowed to serve. But we aren’t talking about chicken sandwiches. We’re talking about children.

There’s another escape route for parents who want to send their children to a school other than the school they have to attend because of their zip code. Pennsylvania has scholarship programs, which are funded by companies donating part of their business taxes to non-profit scholarship organizations. They award scholarships to children whose families’ incomes qualify. But, again, there’s a cap on that program too. The most recently available data from Harrisburg revealed 76,031 students were denied scholarships because the grown-ups had limited the amount of programs. Companies offered to donate an additional $156.3 million, but the powers that be in Harrisburg capped the program anyway.

Over 76,000 students seeking scholarships were denied because of politics. About 20,000 Philadelphia students were locked out of charter schools because of politics. Thousands more across Pennsylvania were locked out, too. These are nearly 100,000 students who could be going to the school their parents or guardians selected and had confidence in, but politics blocked the schoolhouse door.

The children lose out. Their families lose out. Their communities lose out. And Pennsylvania taxpayers and would-be employers lose out.

It’s about money. But not more money out of your pocket: the fight is over whose pocket the money goes into. 

It’s important to underscore that it would not cost one additional dollar of taxpayer money to allow these children to go to the schools their parents chose and were otherwise eligible to attend.

All that is necessary is for politicians to respect parents’ choices for their own children. Then the bookkeepers and accountants just move the existing taxpayer money from column A to column B.

Oh, yes, the money. It’s about money. But not more money out of your pocket: the fight is over whose pocket the money goes into. 

Too many politicians and their allies are more focused on power and money than our children. What’s worse, the children being harmed are from families with less income — and, all too often, forced to attend a school that isn’t serving students. So, we punish the least among us. The politicians hold back the parents who want to give their children a chance to soar higher and to move up the ladder.

Some people can afford to send their children to a private, parochial, Quaker, Jewish Day School or other schools. Some can afford to move across town or to a new community with better schools. Some can’t.

Pennsylvania charter schools were created to offer choices. For those with bad local public schools, it is a second chance. Educational scholarships were created in Pennsylvania to invite businesses to give back, to invest in our children and offer hope to children.

The “problem” with these programs isn’t that they didn’t work; rather, it’s that they succeeded — with thousands of graduates and thousands enrolled. Thousands of parents empowered and countless lives changed for the better.

We need the politicians in Harrisburg, Philadelphia and countless communities across our state to stop playing politics. Make caps on Pennsylvania charter schools illegal. Remove the limits on companies wanting to donate to scholarship organizations. Empower parents. Rescue the children who are being blocked from going to a school that will help them succeed.

We all should want all children to have the chance to succeed — to soar higher. To wake up each day feeling good about their schools.

We shouldn’t just imagine it. We should demand it.

Guy Ciarrocchi is a Fellow with the Commonwealth Foundation and a columnist with Broad + Liberty and RealClearPennsylvania. Follow him @GuyCiarrocchi.

3 thoughts on “Guy Ciarrocchi: Pennsylvania could rescue up to 100,000 children if we put children ahead of politics”

  1. In my opinion there will not be equity in education until we rid ourselves of the various and assorted educational theories and political philosophies infecting our school systems. I don’t think this will happen as long as we allow the public school system to operate as if it is the only game in town. Charter schools, education vouchers, magnet schools. etc., as long as they are with a public-school universe can never provide the education our students require. My position is that there should not be any public funding of schools in the manner currently done. Instead, all school children get a yearly voucher for tuition and supporting supplies. Let the parent then search out the best school the voucher can buy. Public schools would not be abolished but they would have to compete. This would be very difficult to achieve as teachers’ unions have become accustomed to power and money at the public trough and aren’t going to “go gently into that sweet night.”

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