Philadelphia Program Gives Taxpayers, Parents Choice

Published July 8, 2016

During the release of Philadelphia’s public school rankings earlier in 2016, the city’s Superintendent of Schools William Hite said, “Overall, results show that nearly 80 percent of the schools—both district and charter—fall into the lowest performance tiers.”

With such a grim analysis, it’s no wonder parents in the Philadelphia School District are clamoring for more educational options.

That’s where the Children’s Scholarship Fund Philadelphia (CSFP) comes in. Since it was established in 2001, CSFP has awarded more than 18,500 scholarships to children from low-income Philadelphia families to attend K–8 private schools. Each year, they turn away nearly 8,000 students who apply.

CSFP is privately funded by individuals, corporations, and foundations. The four-year scholarships are needs-based and are awarded using a blind lottery system. The average monthly income of CSFP families is $29,000, and they are required to contribute a minimum of $500 towards their child’s tuition annually. 

Parents see the value of choice in education, and the CSFP program proves it. According to CSFP’s website, “96 percent of CSFP alumni who leave our program in 8th grade graduate high school prepared and on time,” and “[85 percent] enroll in some form of post-secondary education within one year following their high school graduation.”

A video explaining the program on the CSFP website reads, “When given opportunity to learn in the environment of their choosing, an astonishing number graduate from high school and go on to enroll in college.”

CSFP operates in conjunction with two Pennsylvania school choice programs: the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit Program and the Educational Improvement Tax Credit Program. These programs enable businesses to redirect their tax liability by donating to CSFP. In exchange for donating to the tax-credit programs, the businesses receive a tax credit for their state corporate taxes worth 90 percent of their donation. 

Pennsylvania’s school choice programs aren’t perfect, but they’re a start. Only 7 percent of students are eligible statewide for the Opportunity Scholarship Program. A little more than half of the state’s students are eligible for the Educational Improvement program, but as the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice website notes, the program “has considerable room to grow on overall funding, as the cap on available tax credits is limited to $100 million.” Increasing the cap on tax credits, the foundation says, “would allow scholarship sizes and student participation numbers to grow.”

Tax-credit opponents are angry taxpayers are being empowered to determine where some of their tax dollars go, but why? The IRS allows individuals to deduct portions of their income tax for making charitable donations. Where is the outrage when taxpayers “designate the use of some of the taxes they owe for payment” to Planned Parenthood or some other progressive, tax-exempt organization and get a so-called “tax break”?

The lack of logic hasn’t stopped school-choice foes from staunchly opposing any transformation of failing public education systems. For instance, when New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) proposed a tax-credit scholarship program for New York State in 2015, opponents—mainly teachers unions—called it an “an attack on public schools.”  

In an article that appeared in the Austin American-Statesman in 2015, law professor James G. Dwyer said tax-credit scholarships are a “scheme,” because they “allow taxpayers to designate the use of some of the taxes they owe for payment of tuition at private schools the state has selected rather than for some other government program.”

How can it be a “scheme” for taxpayers to use money they have been forced to give to the government to pay for their own children to go to a school of their choosing? The real scheme is opponents’ attempt to force parents to pay for failing schools they don’t want to send their kids to.

Is it not in any corporation’s best interests—as well as for society as a whole—to educate children well so they can grow up to be productive employees and valuable members of society? If the goal is for students to attend school and receive the best education possible, why must it be a traditional, ZIP-code-determined public school?

The purpose of tax money, at least in theory, is to improve our collective civilization and protect liberty. That shouldn’t include funding government schools no one wants to go to. The CSFP program, and many others like it across the country, grant taxpayers the freedom to choose where their money is spent. In turn, needy parents are given a choice in where their child is educated. In Philadelphia, parents are choosing to free their children from failing public schools and a life stuck in an often corrupt, broken system. v