The Community Connection
Student-based funding will renew Pa.’s education system
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf recently announced a plan to cut nearly a quarter-billion dollars in state funding for charter schools. It was Wolf’s latest attack on Pennsylvania’s charter school law, which the governor believes is “outdated.”
State Rep. Joe Ciresi, D-Montgomery County, followed with a proposed charter “reform” bill. This punitive measure, Ciresi says, would serve as a “re-start” since the existing charter law was written in 1997.
The world has undoubtedly changed since 1997, but the law consigning kids to a school based on where they live dates to 1834. If Pennsylvania reforms its outdated education system, the state should look beyond the Clinton years. In fact, lawmakers should reevaluate an archaic education model that predates not only Google, but also cars, electricity, and even indoor plumbing.
The 1997 charter school law was a significant step forward; it enabled children to attend the school that works for them rather than the one near where they happen to live. This effort continued with the introduction of tax credit scholarships in 2001. Both advances, though, preserved the antiquated system of assigning children to a specific district, resulting in a warped view of education funding.
Most opponents of parental choice claim it “drains” money from district schools. But that’s only true if one believes the money props up a specific system. Two centuries ago, assigning children to a school based on location, rather than outcome, made sense. After all, travel and communication were limited and curricula were less varied. But let’s face it: If designing — or at least
Editorial guidelines: The Community Connection editorial board welcomes input from its readers on issues of local interests, but we encourage all letter writer to adhere to a certain basic code of conduct. Chief among the rules of this code is the avoidance of personal attacks on non-elected officials. revamping — an education system in 2021, no one would suggest assigning kids to a school based on their street address.
To borrow a phrase from Ciresi: It’s time for a re-start.
That’s where the Excellent Education for All Act comes in. Lawmakers in the General Assembly have heard parental complaints. Today, especially in the COVID era, they recognize one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to education. They realize, moreover, that we need to put students — not systems — first. This ambitious reform package would build on previous efforts to ensure children — regardless of income, race, or ZIP Code — can receive the best education possible.
The Excellent Education for All Act includes many of the charter reforms supported by Wolf and his allies. But most important, it prioritizes the needs of students, not school districts. Currently, only school districts can authorize traditional charter schools. Since the PA School Boards Association
(PSBA) and the PA Association of School Administrators (PASA) are among the most vocal charter school opponents, there’s a clear conflict of interest with this system.
By allowing independent charter authorizers, the reform bill would help the charter school sector attain its goal of offering unique learning environments for students with wide-ranging needs.
Increasing access to charter schools is one way to ensure that geography doesn’t dictate a child’s academic destiny. For some children, access to a private school is the best option.
While Pennsylvania offers tax credit scholarships to help families afford private schools, over 40,000 scholarship applications were denied last year due to arbitrary state caps on the programs. By allowing the programs to grow in response to family needs, more children can attend the school that works for them.
Among the notable reforms
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All Act is the introduction of Education Opportunity Accounts (EOAs) in Pennsylvania. EOAs would allow families who face additional challenges to use state funding to provide a flexible education option for their children. Eligible uses would include tuition, therapies for students with special needs, curriculum, and internet access.
Wolf, Ciresi, and their allies are correct to say our education system is outdated and needs a “restart.” But their solutions preserve the status quo. After all, location shouldn’t determine academic fate. Every child deserves an excellent education. The governor’s prescription won’t help children.
It’s time to put children first in our education system. And that’s exactly what the Excellent Education for All Act accomplishes.
Email: lmitchell@ 21st-centurymedia.com Mail: 24 N. Hanover St., Pottstown, PA 19464