Americans can agree that education is the first step to a brighter future, especially for the poor, but debate has raged for decades on how best to provide that opportunity to our nation's schoolchildren.
While politicians argue, millions of families have taken matters into their own hands — sending their children to expensive private schools, moving to a district with better public schools, or even homeschooling their children.
But the families who cannot afford to do so are the ones most in need of educational opportunity. Most often, it is poor families who are zoned to schools that are unsafe and do not properly equip children to succeed.
Absent reforms, the fate of these children is determined by their zip code — the exact opposite of what millions of Americans love most about our country: that we live in one of the few places on earth where the circumstances of your birth do not determine the circumstances of your life.
But how do we improve education, especially for the neediest students? Is more money the answer? More staff in schools? Since 1970, the public school student population has increased by about five percent. Over that same time, total education spending has more than doubled adjusted for inflation and school staff has increased over 95 percent. But student achievement continues to slide backwards in relation to our peers around the world. Worse, urban districts that spend the most per pupil contain some of our worst schools.
Still, many continue to advocate that the answer is more money. But they seldom provide specifics. Exactly how much more money and how many more staff will it take to end the mediocrity? Certainly American taxpayers are willing to pay the price for a return on investment. But If spending more isn't working, who is pushing it, and why?
Increased education spending directly benefits the unions that represent public school staff. Every time they successfully lobby for more funding and more staff, it means more dues being sent to union coffers. More union dues means more political activity — lobbying for even more spending, and supporting politicians who agree with the union, perpetuating the cycle.
But unions don't just ask for more money from taxpayers. They are also the most vocal opponents against school choice programs that allow families options other than district schools.
Unions and their political allies would prefer a system in which every child is forced to attend public schools and where taxpayers would pony up a never-ending stream of funding, regardless of the results they produce.
Thankfully, leaders all across the country have overcome union lobbying to enact school choice programs that allow parents to provide their children the education they believe best serves their child's needs.
These reforms include charter schools, scholarship programs that give tax deductions to individuals or businesses that help pay private school tuition for low-income students, and education savings accounts ("ESA") programs that take a portion of the per pupil funds spent on a student and put them in parents' control to spend on any qualified educational expense.
It's time for Pennsylvania to give more choice to parents seeking a better educational opportunity for their children. From Educational Savings Accounts to expanding charter schools and the Educational Investment Tax Credit PA needs a robust and vibrant set of school choice policies. Our children and their parents deserve every choice necessary to succeed.
I'm Beth Anne Mumford, State Director of Americans for Prosperity PA. Join our effort at www.afppennsylvania.com
(This commentary originally ran at www.americansforprosperity.com)