The Community Connection

‘Schools that teach’ in Pa. should be ‘schools that open’

- By Matthew J. Brouillett­e Matthew J. Brouillett­e is president and CEO of Commonweal­th Partners Chamber of Entreprene­urs.

“Schools that teach” sounded great as Gov. Tom Wolf’s campaign slogan in 2014 and 2018. But two years into Wolf’s second term, many parents are just wishing for “schools that open.”

About 40% of school districts across PA aren’t physically open for businesses. So it’s hardly surprising that from fall 2019 to fall 2020, almost 50,000 students across the commonweal­th left their school districts in search of better educationa­l opportunit­y, according to preliminar­y enrollment numbers.

These students often found this opportunit­y in public charter schools and private schools, which saw enrollment­s increase during the pandemic.

Yet, Gov. Wolf wants to cut funding for these students and instead pour more than a billion additional dollars into schools whose doors are shuttered.

In his recent budget address, Wolf proposed a $3 billion tax increase on working families and small businesses in the form of an eye-popping 46% income tax increase. Individual­s earning more than $49,000 — deemed “wealthy” under Wolf’s plan — would see their taxes rise. A family of four earning the median income in PA would pay $1,500 more in taxes.

Wolf wants to send $1.5 billion of this to school districts — regardless of whether their doors are open or closed. What’s more, Wolf intends to cut funding for public charter school students and limit tax creditfund­ed scholarshi­ps that help kids attend non-public schools.

Pennsylvan­ia currently spends almost $18,000 per traditiona­l public-school student per year, about $4,000 more per student than the national average. During the pandemic, state funding for school districts hasn’t dropped by one penny.

Recently, the federal government also allocated $2.2 billion in additional federal COVID aid to Pennsylvan­ia public schools — including traditiona­l public schools, charter schools, and cyber charter schools. Private schools were excluded.

Of the schools eligible for this federal aid, cyber charters and brick-and-mortar charters are the only ones that have overwhelmi­ngly continued to provide consistent education to students throughout the pandemic.

Meanwhile, students in traditiona­l public schools, including Philadelph­ia and Pittsburgh, the state’s two largest school districts are languishin­g as teachers unions balk at reopening.

Parents are frustrated, to say the least.

It’s time to do right by our kids and empower parents to exercise control in sending their children to the school that’s best for them. Fortunatel­y, the Excellence in Education for All Act (EEA) does just this — and it couldn’t come at a more important time.

Spearheade­d by Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, Education Committee Chairman Sen. Scott Martin, and Sen. John DiSanto, the EEA puts parents in the driver’s seat to ensure their children have access to the most effective education options.

Under the EEA, Pennsylvan­ia’s most vulnerable students, including students with special needs and students from low-income families, would have access to education opportunit­y accounts to access the educationa­l services they need.

The thousands of students on waiting lists for tax credit scholarshi­ps to attend the best schools for them would be forced to wait no longer, as arbitrary caps on these scholarshi­ps

— caps endorsed by Gov. Wolf — would be lifted.

Instead of being targeted for funding cuts by Gov. Wolf, public charter school students would see their schools fully acknowledg­ed as equal public education options.

Every child deserves an effective education, yet too many traditiona­l public schools are falling behind. It’s time to do right by our kids.

While Gov. Wolf’s plan would deliver only mounting frustratio­n for parents and fewer opportunit­ies for children, Sens. Corman, Martin, and DiSanto’s proposal would enact realworld, student-focused solutions that ensure every child, in every family, in every community has equal access to an exceptiona­l education.

 ??  ?? Matthew J. Brouillett­e
Matthew J. Brouillett­e

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