OPINION: Reformer Explains How Choice Improves Budgets

From The Burlington County Times in Pennsylvania:

Empowering parents to choose the best school for their children – whether public or private, regardless of ZIP code – isn’t just the right thing to do. With states struggling to overcome yawning budget deficits, school choice makes good fiscal sense.

Governors and state legislatures across the nation are facing a grim financial reality: More than $100 billion in federal education stimulus money is gone. Another bailout isn’t forthcoming, and voters have no great appetite for additional tax hikes. After years of pumping up school spending, real cuts are coming. In fact, they’re overdue.

With resources tight, the smarter lawmakers and governors are proposing some ambitious reforms. These include establishing new teacher evaluation rules and ending the practice of “last hired, first fired” that punishes younger teachers and protects time-servers; removing expensive class-size mandates; and renegotiating “Cadillac” pension plans.

Excellent ideas all. But states such as Florida, Indiana, New Jersey, Ohio and Pennsylvania are also considering legislation to establish or expand opportunity scholarship programs currently offering low-income parents or parents with disabled children the means to send their children to the school of their choice instead of one determined by their residence.

Opponents argue tax credit scholarship programs are expensive, deprive traditional public schools of resources, and use taxpayer dollars to enrich private or even religious enterprises. Despite these claims, the programs have expanded slowly but steadily, successfully raising academic achievement where they’ve been tried in 14 states and the District of Columbia.

In addition, study after study shows school choice saves money.