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

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

Many of those students have found that 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 one billion additional dollars into schools
with shuttered doors.

In his 2021 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 Pennsylvania would send $1,500 more to Harrisburg. And Wolf wants to send $1.5 billion of this to school districts—regardless of whether their doors are open or closed.

… Cyber charters and brick-and-mortar charters are the only ones that have overwhelmingly continued to provide consistent education to students throughout the pandemic.

In total, Pennsylvania spends almost $18,000 per traditional public-school student per year, about $4,000 more per student than the national average. Despite the pandemic, state funding for school districts hasn’t dropped by one penny. And over the last year, the federal government has 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. The recently proposed, 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 Chair 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 receive 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.

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

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.

And parents would be empowered to be actively engaged in choosing the educational opportunities that will best prepare their children for success.

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

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

Matthew J. Brouillette, a former high school and middle school teacher, is president and CEO of Commonwealth Partners Chamber of Entrepreneurs. www.thecommonwealthpartners.com.

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