Twenty years ago Pennsylvania enacted a charter school law. Since then, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia have embraced the law differently, experiencing significant differences in public school enrollment and population loss. According to NPR, in Philly, school choice has exploded, keeping school enrollment steady. But in Pittsburgh, where charter school applications are often rejected and there’s an overall skepticism of choice, enrollment keeps dropping. As a matter of fact, from 2001-2016 Pittsburgh enrollment dropped by 27.8% where Philadelphia only saw a 3.8% drop in the same period.
School choice skeptics argue that there is a larger cultural context to consider in these cities beyond the schools’ impacts. And ironically, we would agree but argue the use of choice is either helping or hurting each context. There is no doubt economic activity, neighborhoods, and schools are deeply connected. Why not add good schools and let opportunities for education draw people to less desirable neighborhoods?
Whether the people in these communities believe Philly’s enrollment and population stability is connected to choice or not, many agree the key for success in Pennsylvania’s two major cities is to stop wealth from fleeing for the ‘burbs while giving poor families a ladder up.
Read more of the evidence here and consider the way schools can impact a community: