The Pennsylvania Award for Student Success (PASS) program and Gov. Shapiro’s repeated public support for it continue to receive much-deserved media attention. The situation in our low-achieving schools is at crisis level, and children suffer every day because of that.

What can we do about it? We can continue to increase funding for pre-K through twelfth grade education, and the Senate-approved fiscal year 2023–24 budget does this to the tune of more than $1.1 billion. After several years of historic increases in education spending, Pennsylvania is nationally ranked near the top. However, the desired results have not come.

We must think outside the box to help our students in need. What would enacting PASS and expanding school choice do?

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School choice improves test scores. According to a University of Arkansas study that reviewed correlations between increased education options and standardized test scores across states, “higher levels of school choice are significantly associated with higher National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) achievement levels and higher NAEP achievement gains in all our statistical models.”

School choice increases college enrollment and graduation rates. According to a study by the Urban Institute, children enrolled in school choice programs like the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, the nation’s oldest and largest school choice program, are “more likely than public school students to enroll and persist at four-year universities.”

School choice lowers crime rates. According to a study published in Social Science Quarterly, “mere exposure to private schooling through a voucher is associated with lower rates of criminal activity,” and “students who used the program through 12th grade… were much less likely to have criminal records than their public-school peers.”

I call on Gov. Shapiro and House Democrats to stop bowing to unions and special interests and stand with those children in need by enacting the PASS program.

School choice increases diversity and integration. Seven out of eight empirical studies by the Cato Institute show increases in school diversity in areas with school voucher programs, with the only remaining study showing no impact. “When school choice programs give disadvantaged children the opportunity to exit their already-segregated neighborhood schools, their transitions unsurprisingly result in a more racially and socioeconomically integrated society,” the Institute says.

School choice helps meet the state’s constitutional requirement to provide every student with a meaningful opportunity to succeed. In its recent opinion on school funding, the Commonwealth Court stated that the mandate for reform does not “require reform to be entirely financial” and that “the options for reform are virtually limitless.” A multifaceted approach, not just more money, was surely on the court’s mind in its opinion.

It is without a doubt that the PASS program and increasing school choice would have a life-changing impact on the children who participate and the communities where they live. The children in failing schools need our help, and they need it now. I call on Gov. Shapiro and House Democrats to stop bowing to unions and special interests and stand with those children in need by enacting the PASS program, giving countless children in failing schools an opportunity today and the future they dream of tomorrow.

State Sen. Judy Ward represents the 30th Senatorial District, serving residents in Blair, Fulton, Huntingdon, Juniata, and Mifflin counties. She is the Senate sponsor of legislation to create the Pennsylvania Award for Student Success (PASS) program to provide scholarships of up to $15,000 to students in low-income households living in the commonwealth’s lowest-performing school districts.

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