It’s the Schools, Stupid

Published June 1, 1999

Allowing parents to direct education taxes to the schools of their choice could reverse not only the decline of city schools, but also the decline of cities themselves, argued W. Russell G. Byers, senior editor of the Philadelphia Daily News, in an editorial earlier this year.

For more than two decades, Philadelphia, like other cities across the nation, has seen large numbers of middle-class families from all ethnic groups abandonthe city for the suburbs, fleeing not only crime and taxes but also the city’s schools. An average-income family looking for a good school might easily find it more economical to pay higher taxes in the suburbs, where the public schools are better, than stay in the city and pay private school tuition.

“It’s the schools, stupid,” wrote Byers, paraphrasing a familiar campaign slogan. “The primary motivation for the parents almost always comes down to the schools.” As city schools have failed, they have brought the cities down with them.

Families can be encouraged to remain, Byers noted, if they have access to better schools. He pointed to the hundreds of parents with children enrolled in Philadelphia’s new East Oak Lane charter school, the brainchild of mayoral candidate and voucher advocate State Representative Dwight Evans.

“[Vouchers and charter schools] represent the best hope, and perhaps the last opportunity, to stop and then reverse the flight of the middle-class from the cities,” Byers wrote. “Those who oppose such options as a theoretical threat to a public education system that fails to educate the public ignore reality, and drive still another nail into the coffin of urban America.”