In April 2019, the Philadelphia Business Journal reported that in metropolitan Philadelphia, 18.4% of students attend private schools – roughly 46,000 students. The Philadelphia School District serves another ~203,000 students each year.
Tuition for many Philadelphia private schools starts around $20,000 per year – the same as the total yearly income for the average family in Hunting Park and other North Philadelphia neighborhoods.
Some private schools boast graduation and college enrollment rates of 100%. Data provided by The Notebook shows the average on-time graduation rate for Philadelphia School District neighborhood schools is around 63%.
Nationally, only 10% of all schoolchildren attend private schools. Philadelphia’s percentage is fifth highest in the nation, in a city that leads the nation in poverty rates. In short, Philadelphia offers an exclusive and far superior education to one fifth of families, and often to those who already have many advantages.
Given this reality, it is a moral imperative to give disadvantaged children as many options as possible for a good education. Public charter schools are one excellent way to provide access and choice, as any family can apply to a charter school, and admission is done by lottery. Charter schools in Philadelphia serve ~68,000 of the school district’s children, with an average graduation rate of 81%.
Education tax credits expand choices through scholarships, as described in an article originally written for The Philadelphia Citizen.
The CEOs of Esperanza’s charter schools comment on these tax credit programs:
Although education tax credit scholarships do not apply to cyber schools, I do believe in the choice movement. Anything that gives students a way out of low-performing schools is good for kids, families, and school systems. The only limitation I see with these programs is, the schools they fund don’t have to accept any student who applies. They can reject applicants and continue shutting out disadvantaged kids who need an opportunity. Scholarships are one part of the solution to a complex challenge, and certainly any financial resources available to support school choice should not be left on the table.
Dr. Jon Marsh, CEO of Esperanza Cyber Charter School
There is strong evidence that expanding tax credit scholarships not only benefits the students who receive them, but also helps elevate the performance of the rest of the public schools in a district. So, scholarships have a residual impact beyond just the individual student and their family. Charter Schools are a big part of the school choice movement, and even though tax credit scholarship programs do not assist in increasing overall charter school enrollment, I believe it is good for kids. We as educators are committed to the best interests of our communities’ kids, to ensure they have every opportunity to learn, grow, and thrive. The choice movement – in all its expressions – is really a civil rights issue. It frees parents and students from being forced into schools that have failed their communities for generations.
David Rossi, CEO of Esperanza Academy Charter School