The Community Connection

Student-based funding will renew Pa.’s education system

- By Colleen Hroncich, Guest columnist Colleen Hroncich is a senior policy analyst at the Commonweal­th Foundation, a Pa. free-market think tank.

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 It was Wolf’s latest attack on Pennsylvan­ia’s charter school law, which the governor believes is “outdated.”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 If Pennsylvan­ia reforms its outdated education system, the state should look beyond the Clinton years.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

How to have your say: The deadline for submitted content is 5p.m., Mondays. Please include your name and town of residence to be considered to print. Anonymous letters will not be printed. in the Excellent Education for

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-centurymed­ Mail: 24 N. Hanover St., Pottstown, PA 19464



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Colleen Hroncich

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