In 2012, a majority of Washington state voters decided that parents and students should have some choices in public education, allowing 40 charter schools to open within the more than 2,300 schools in the public K-12 system.

What if that kind of school choice was the norm for Washington state families and not the rare exception?

Freshman Republican state Rep. Liz Pike (R-Vancouver) has introduced a bill in the Washington state House that would be a major step toward the ideal of making access to a quality education universal. Pike’s House Bill 2063 would create a special tax incentive for investing in tuition scholarships available to lower-income students, a program that is already being used successfully in 12 other states to allow some 130,000 kids to attend private schools who otherwise would not be able to afford it.

According to an analysis of the bill done by Freedom Foundation Education Reform Fellow Jami Lund, HB 2063 would offer a 100% business and operating tax credit for donations made to approved scholarship-granting entities, and the initial maximum annual tax credits would be capped at $100 million. The amount of individual grants would be limited to $5,000 for basic education students and $10,500 for special education students, and would have to be used at a state-approved school. Donors’ children could not be the recipients of scholarship monies.

The passage of the charter school initiative represented a baby step toward educational freedom for students most at-risk of slipping through the cracks, but for whom publicly funded education is not just a state-guaranteed right, but a necessity.

Nevertheless, 40 charter schools cannot possibly make more than a small dent in the iceberg-like looming social problem of 15,000 students dropping out Washington state public schools each year, a majority of whom come from low-income households. There are real costs – economic and social – to bear from each unfulfilled promise to educate every child. Statistics compiled from state agencies find that each dropout ends up costing state taxpayers $10,500 per year (in increased use of social services and lost economic activity) for the rest of that student’s life. The emotional cost to the individual dropping out is immeasurable.

Pike’s bill represents a real move to expand opportunities in a way that also brings communities back into the education system as true investors. During an otherwise sleepy special session now underway, the Legislature should have time to give her bill its full consideration as part of a comprehensive strategy to improve education opportunities for Washington state students.


[featured image used under Creative Commons license, credit: m00by]