Pennsylvania can keep the education choice wave advancing

Adams County Christian Academy in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, is one of 1,877 private schools in the state serving 266,828 students. Adams County students in grades preK-12 learn to view the world through the lens of scripture, cultivating faith, commitment, excellence and service.

Editor’s note: Myles Slade-Bowers is a student at High Point University in North Carolina and a Future Leaders Fellow with the American Federation for Children. He benefited from a school choice tax credit scholarship in Pennsylvania and now fights to expand those opportunities to students like himself.

When I was growing up in Steelton, Pennsylvania, my assigned public school district was not able to accommodate my learning style. As a result of an eye condition, my reading speed was significantly slower than the average student’s speed. I needed a different education environment but moving or paying private school tuition was not an option for my family.

Because of Pennsylvania’s Opportunity Tax Credit Scholarship Program, I was able to access the education I needed to succeed. I was able to graduate from high school, attend High Point University, a private university in North Carolina, and now share my school choice story with world leaders. Without school choice, none of that would have been possible.

Students across the country have a K-12 story similar to mine and are benefiting from the response of a historic number of states over the last few years that have expanded education options for families.

Pennsylvania legislators have the chance to give more students the same opportunity I had via HB2169, which would establish the Lifeline Scholarships Program. This bill will empower families with the ability to choose an educational environment that best serves their children’s needs.

The program would create educational opportunity accounts that families could use for a variety of pre-approved education expenditures, including tuition, curriculum, or other supplementary learning materials, tutoring, or technology like internet connectivity infrastructure. These accounts, which give each family better access to individualized education resources, would be life-changing for families that like mine, struggled to afford private school tuition.

Parents in Pennsylvania are tired of one-size-fits-all solutions. Not every student learns the same, and they have different needs. Despite continuous increases in funding and promises made by school administrators, academic outcomes in Pennsylvania are appallingly low. Philadelphia public school children, for example, test at 30% proficiency in reading and 15% in math.

Something needs to be done, and families are pleading for Lifeline Scholarships to rescue their students.

Eligible students must come from a school in the bottom 15% of performance metrics based on state testing. This program would directly help the thousands of students across Pennsylvania who are most at risk of being left behind.

People want more school choice. A 2021 national poll revealed that support for school choice is at an all-time high, with 74% of registered voters in favor. School choice is popular on the political right and left, with 83% of Republicans and 70% of Democrats either strongly or somewhat supporting school choice. Specifically, in Pennsylvania, a Rasmussen poll showed that 66% of Pennsylvanians support school choice.

The Lifeline Scholarship Program will empower families with the ability to make choices about the future of their children’s academic success. No one knows or understands their kids as parents do, and Pennsylvania should expand access to education freedom to everyone who wants it.