By Dave Rowan
School choice can be a polarizing – and often politicized – issue. Each new charter school that pops up provokes debate, funding toward private or Catholic institutions is challenged for not going toward public schools, and with each decision a parent makes, the potential criticisms seem endless. But truthfully, without this myriad of options, the education system can’t properly serve students in the way they need to be served. Why should a child’s future be determined by their ZIP code or their family’s financial standing?
Last week was National School Choice Week – a week designed to empower parents to uncover the best education option for their children, whether that be traditional public schools, public charter schools, magnet schools, private schools, online learning or homeschooling. It is also a moment to pause and reflect on the bigger issue at hand – how can we provide the highest-quality education to Pennsylvania’s children? School choice is fundamental in creating opportunities for students to thrive, and in my unique position as CEO of Business Leadership Organized for Catholic Schools – the largest scholarship organization in the state of Pennsylvania – I witness firsthand the transformative power that this critical choice can have on a student’s future.
Without school choice programs like the Educational Improvement Tax Credit and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit in Pennsylvania, many students would not be achieving at the levels they are today. These programs create the opportunity for families to determine what educational path is best for their child and to pursue that path with fewer financial limitations. Currently, more than 25,000 under-resourced Philadelphia students — many of whom live in the lowest-performing school neighborhoods — are able to attend tuition-based schools because of these programs. And thanks to the recent $150 million increase in the EITC/OSTC programs, our organization alone will be able to provide need-based scholarships to 10,000 additional students in the next school year.
School choice also plays a critical role in education equity and leveling the playing field for students regardless of background, address or other factors beyond their control. In a day and age when all-too-many issues surrounding our children and families are so polarizing, putting the needs of students first is more than just refreshing — it’s the catalyst for a resurgence not just in education equity, but economic equity. There is a direct correlation between the success of our students and the reduction of intergenerational poverty. Years of research has confirmed what we see every day in Philadelphia — when families from a lower economic status have the opportunity to invest in their children, all futures get better.
BLOCS provides need-based scholarships for students enrolled in private and Catholic schools, institutions that have seen marked growth in enrollment in the past few years, and saw tremendous academic success throughout the pandemic. Since 2019-2020, there has been a 44% increase in the number of students at Archdiocese schools receiving need-based scholarships; opportunities for a high-quality, values-based education that would not have been possible if not for school choice and programs like EITC that allow taxpayers to receive state tax credits when they contribute to scholarship organizations.
The future success of our city and region is dependent upon providing students with the best educational experience possible at parent-selected schools that best suit their needs. While there is no one-size-fits-all in education, the choice is for families to make. I am proud to stand on the front lines with those making these opportunities possible for all. ••
Dave Rowan is the CEO of Business Leadership Organized for Catholic Schools. He joined the organization in September 2019 and, under his leadership, BLOCS has helped provide 17,000 scholarships to students in need across the state. More at www.blocs.org.