Why do they care? Why do politicians block legislation? Give angry speeches?

When it comes to Lifeline — offering scholarships to students attending the worst schools, mostly from the poorest families — why do some politicians get so worked-up, offering thundering speeches in the House of Representatives, on social media posts, and at rallies?

Lifeline scholarships are quite simply a legislative rescue-plan — a lifeboat — that would offer parents and guardians the option of using aid to remove their child from a demonstrably failing school and send him or her to another school — public, religious, independent, private. Lifeline schools’ assessment test scores are in the bottom fifteen percent in the state. Less than a third of students tested at grade-level. And in many cases, the percentage scoring at a school’s grade-level is single-digits, a few at zero — meaning there are literally no students who can read or do math at grade-level.

To anyone who cares about our society — to any parent — this is gut-wrenching. 

READ MORE — Guy Ciarrocchi: The new Lifeline Scholarships debate — Democrat vs. Democrat!

And, to raise the awkward point: why do primarily white, suburban, middle and upper-middle class, progressive Democrat legislators want to keep primarily black and Hispanic students in failing, often urban, public schools? These are schools they would never send their kids to, in neighborhoods they’ve likely never been to or wouldn’t be there but for a photo op. I readily concede that Republican politicians aren’t always motivated by what’s “right.” I cannot promise that every Republican “yes” vote for Lifeline was motivated by the best intentions. Nonetheless, voting yes for Lifeline is a good — even, moral — vote to help poor kids trapped in failing schools.

Why don’t they trust the parents to find a better school?

Imagine your child being trapped in one of those schools, without the resources to move or to send your child to a private school, or a Catholic school costing “only” $4,400/year. (In Philadelphia, there are 30,000 students on “waiting lists” for public charter schools because the politicians won’t allow the current charters to grow and won’t allow new charters to open.)

To paraphrase Governor Shapiro, these are all “children of God.” Why do politicians want to keep kids in these failing schools? And, why are they fighting to keep them trapped? Why don’t they trust parents?

As someone who’s been championing parental choice for years, I have a strong idea of what is motivating many of the opponents. Spoiler alert: it’s not about helping students.

The old, tired excuse is that plans like Lifeline “steal money” from public schools. That argument is clearly wrong when it comes to Lifeline. The state budget that passed both the House and Senate grants an additional $714 million toward public education spending. It’s the largest increase ever, one year after the largest ever one year increase. And, if Lifeline disappeared from the budget tomorrow, public schools wouldn’t get one more dollar.

Arguing that Lifeline “steals money” from public schools is factually wrong. It wrongly implies that only “public schools” are entitled to any education spending. Second, since Lifeline exists on its own, one might as well argue that funding more state police and offering tax breaks to nurses (this budget does both) “steals money from public schools.”

Bizarrely, some opponents offer the argument that Lifeline doesn’t offer enough money to make a meaningful impact. Lots to unpack there.

Why are legislators living in some of the best school districts so opposed to rescuing the students attending the worst schools, from some of the poorest families?

Opponents fear that “too many” will apply for the $100 million allocated. Lifeline could allow 20,000 students to be rescued — to leave a school that’s failing them. That’s very significant. 20,000 is greater than the population of West Chester.

Not enough money to help students in failing schools? How about $714 million in additional public education spending? (Currently there is $5 billion in school district reserves across the state.) And, add to that $100 million for Lifeline. Not enough money to matter? How much is enough?

If opponents genuinely believe $100 million isn’t enough to support everyone who wants to leave, what does that say about how many want to get out?  If demand will be greater than $100 million, add money to it. Don’t cancel it. Again, why keep them in failing schools?

The insanity continues. Some opponents suggest Lifeline proponents will “line their pockets” with scholarship money. Taking Catholic schools in our region as an example: In Philly, the suburbs, and Reading, the average elementary school tuition is between $4,300–$5,500 per student. In our region, a typical public school district spends $15,000–$25,000 per student.

Obviously, the only way parochial schools can operate is lower overhead — e.g., less bureaucracy — and the reality that parishioners and local businesses donate money to keep the schools solvent. Lifeline would offer eligible students a maximum of $5,000 for elementary school. So, who’s “lining their pockets?”

Lifeline isn’t perfect, but it would rescue and immediately help 20,000 students. This also allows public schools to spend more money per student, with better teacher-student ratios.

As for being imperfect or not enough, let’s use common sense and compassion. When the Titanic hit the iceberg and began to sink, no one suggested turning the lifeboats away because “everyone” couldn’t be saved.

This budget contains the largest increase in public school funding ever, the highest per pupil spending and better teacher-student ratios in failing schools, and 20,000 students getting a new chance at success.

As the debate over Lifeline and the state budget continues, ask yourself: why would we continue to force students to attend failing schools that aren’t working for them? Why not trust parents and give them choices? How else could we change the lives of thousands — tens of thousands — of students immediately?

Why are legislators living in some of the best school districts so opposed to rescuing the students attending the worst schools, from some of the poorest families?

Guy Ciarrocchi is a Fellow with the Commonwealth Foundation. He writes for Broad+Liberty and RealClear Pennsylvania.  Follow him @PaSuburbsGuy.

11 thoughts on “Guy Ciarrocchi: Why won’t suburban progressives trust urban parents to pick their kids’ schools”

  1. 1-An ugly thing to say, but true: lots of suburban progressive women are bigots. When single they live in cool places like manyunk, but as soon as they have children they move to towns as wealthy as they can afford – Where they plant “I believe in science” lawn signs and send their kids to predominantly white schools.
    2-Think of the public school system as a big racket employing lots of progressive women who zealously guard their graft.

  2. The teachers union has a large number of suburban, white women. They do not care about the children in the city. They care about the power of their union.

  3. I would refer everyone to the Colorado experiment with school choice. It has been a resounding success There is not enough space here but, if you get a copy of The Epoch Times, Wednesday, August 2nd. 2023, in section A4, you will find an expansive article exploring Colorado’s experience. As to why people oppose school choice, I would add that these are people who wish to preserve their advantages in class and earning power. My suburban child can read, write and cypher, your urban child can barely read, has no life or employment skills and is trapped in government welfare.

  4. We also need to ask: why are there any failing schools? There will always be some schools that are better than others, but no school should be failing. If we know why it is failing, then we also know what needs to be done to improve it. And the solution is not just to throw more money at it.

  5. The correct question is: why are these Philadelphia schools failing? As various answers get thrown against the wall – the next serious question is why are some of the students who get into charter schools or the other options succeeding (able to actually read and do math at a grade level)? It is about the culture the child is around during the school day. We all know the majority of taxpayers flee Philadelphia once they have school aged children if they cannot afford the best schools in the city. If Philadelphia schools were better than Philadelphia would unleash thousands of new entrepreneurs, businesses, and jobs and become a magnet to attract taxpayers and employees back into the city. The schools are the biggest and number one problem Philadelphia has currently. Crime is a symptom of their problems not a true “problem.”
    As for the second and third biggest problems that face Philadelphia, I do not have the talent nor ambition, but many of these obsolete offices could become vertical farms. Fresh healthy food and plenty of meaningful work could be created for one of the neediest cities looking for both things.
    Mike Sweeney, Havertown, PA

  6. Maybe its because we should look at solving the issue and not finding a work around. These schools lose funding because they are failing and because they are failing we want to move the kids. We’ll never solve the issue because its an issue that goes beyond school. The schools that are failing are in areas where the GOP doesn’t want to create the socioeconomic support required for these areas. The idea of the lifeline and politicizing it, is just another GOP grab at deflecting the real issue. The GOP never wants to really solve anything, but just frame things in a way to stay in power. Anything to rile up votes. I don’t see Guy commenting on the GOP blocking other social programs. Why? Because it doesn’t get the votes. This is is a farce at actually caring about under privileged families and children, when we all know that the the GOP could care less.

    1. OG’s biggest whoppers:
      “The failing schools are in areas where the GOP doesn’t want to create socioeconomic support.”
      (Since the inception of the Great Society welfare transfer program the entire value of the Fortune 500 has been shoveled to poor areas many times over. Paid mostly by Republicans.)
      “The GOP is framing this just to stay in power.”
      (To stay in power? Republicans? In government schools?)

      1. Hey Chip!

        Just looking for a source or figures on the value of fortune 500. Or is this one of those made up stats? And that it was paid by Republicans.
        But lets suppose you are correct for debate sake. Do you think they did it without complaining and through their own goodness of heart? I don’t think so.

        My comment about staying in power was more globally speaking. But yes in the school context, board elections have become very political in recent years. If you haven’t heard of Moms for Liberty and their involvement with some high ranking GOP leaders or think they aren’t in bed with the GOP then I don’t know what to tell you.

  7. OG,
    Please do yourself a favor: Google search the term “Book of Sirach ‘Education'” and, then please: use Brave Search – so instead of Google – and type those exact words: “Book of Sirach ‘Education”. Please let me know the different results you get from those different search engines for the exact same query (words.) Then please do yourself a favor and stop blaming the GOP for anything, Anything, Dude: God is in everyone’s heart. That is why you follow the golden rule and treat people the way you want to be treated. All this other stuff is stupid nonsense. Come on, OG. Stop getting clowned and be an actual O.G. The second Golden rule is the people with the gold make the rules. It is rich v. poor – the rest of the B.S. is simply just the rich trying to get the poor people angry at each other.

    1. All Right I’ll bite.

      Google result returns scripture lines from Bible study tools and Bible Gateway
      Brave result returns a scripture from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and an article from Oxford Bibliographies.
      Hopefully that helps you on your journey.

      Don’t get me wrong, I agree we should all be nicer to each other and stop blaming and move forward. But all the GOP has done in recent history (from my perspective) is cause a larger divide in the nation. They pit people against themselves and play to peoples ignorance. If people are so busy fighting and hating each other. They can’t see the real issues.

  8. OG,

    I see your points. For example, everyone wants to blame LeBron James for the failure of “his” I Promise Network.” But LeBron is the fall guy and as a child he missed over 80 days of school during 4th grade. Those kids have a hard life. But it is not the G.O.P. And I agree with your statement: “We’ll never solve the issue because its an issue that goes beyond school.” We can solve the issues, and we need to begin by listening and respecting each other for the simple fact that God is in every heart.

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