Commentary

Giving Prince George’s Parents Choice Will Fix the Schools

Officials say Prince George’s County Public Schools will only be 200 teachers short this year rather than the 300 teachers it was short last year. And that’s after a $300,000 advertising blitz. And after spending around $1.5 billion … yes, billion with a “B,” last year.

So why doesn’t PGPS have all of the teachers it needs? It’s certainly not the money, with salaries starting at $43,000 … that’s $33 an hour for the average starting teacher. It works out to $63,000 annualized for a year of full time work.

And why don’t those they do have do a better job? PGPS regularly finishes second-to-last in Maryland. Again, it’s certainly not the money, with well over $11,000 spent on each student every year … that’s more than double what tuition costs on average at independent schools.

The problems of the Prince George’s County education system have one cause; it’s a government monopoly.

The problems of the Prince George’s County education system have one solution; use school choice reforms like education tax credits to open up education to the competition, choice, and freedom that drive every other sector of our economy.

Prince George’s problems with money, efficiency, and performance aren’t unique. They are dragging down our entire public educational system.

Education in the U.S. has been in steady decline since the 1950’s, according to Paul Peterson, director of the Program on Education, Policy and Governance at Harvard University.

Our students come out at the bottom of advanced democracies in science, math and literacy, and the evidence shows that our country’s overall test averages are propped up by those who were educated in the fifties.

Maryland needs to give parents and taxpayers control over education with dollar-for-dollar tax credits on their income, sales, and property taxes for each dollar they spend on education.

Education tax credits reduce the amount a taxpayer owes the government for each dollar he spends on his child’s education or scholarships for children who need them. If a business owed the state $4,000 in taxes and donated $2,000 for scholarships, for instance, it would pay just $2,000 in taxes. Similar benefits can also be applied to individuals for donations and for their own child’s education expenses.

Education tax credits are already saving money and children in other states, and are picking up steam even among Democrats. Last year, Arizona, Rhode Island and Iowa passed tax-credit programs, and Pennsylvania expanded its existing business-tax credit for donations to private scholarship funds.

The Arizona and Iowa bills got past Democratic governors, and the Rhode Island business-tax credit came about in a legislature controlled by Democrats. And in true-blue New York, Democratic Gov. Eliot Spitzer proposed an education-tax deduction in his first state budget.

The primary benefit of education tax credits is that they make schools accountable to parents rather than to a broken government bureaucracy. But the benefits of tax credits go far beyond student achievement, which, all controlled studies show, is improved by school choice programs.

Tax credits encourage the participation of local businesses, churches, and other non-profits in educating the city’s children, fostering a sense of community and strengthening society. They encourage a sense of responsibility and agency in parents, who control their child’s education and can ensure they receive a good education.

And school choice saves a bundle because the amount spent on each student on average is so much less than the amount spent per pupil in the public system — about half as much at $5,500 compared to $11,000.

Education tax credits, cover just what a family needs to send their child to a better school and turn what’s pocket change to a bureaucrat becomes a lifeline for thousands of children.

Prince George’s County, Maryland, and every other state need education tax credits now. Otherwise, our government school system will keep coming up short on money, performance, and efficiency.

Adam Schaeffer is an education analyst at the Cato Institute.