To the honorable members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly:
Over the years, we parents have watched educational battles plague our commonwealth, our communities, and our homes. The continuous debate among education stakeholders only further entrenches various positions of advocacy rather than initiating cooperation and collaboration for the future of our most precious commodity — our children. We should be focusing on how to provide relief for our students by placing them at the center of the conversation and making real, lasting changes to the systems that have failed many of them.
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Concerning language is being used in education legislation to weaken “competing” student education options, setting some children up to win and others to lose. From year to year, regardless of our education model, we continually worry about what the new legislation year will bring, but because of attention to our daily duties, not much energy is left for us to devote time to advocate for the education overhaul so desperately needed. We are simply trying to help our children survive. That’s a sad picture.
Our search as parents for educational solutions became even more evident during the 2020–21 school year, when homeschooling rates increased by 60 percent, and public charter school enrollment increased by 59 percent. This represents almost 63,000 students whose families felt that change was necessary. Over 500 parents reported to my organization that the top three reasons (in order of priority) for moving to cyber charter were better academics, bullying avoidance, and poor district experience. For homeschoolers, the top three reasons were adaptability of curriculum, family values, and better academics.
Alternate education options, including those provided by Pennsylvania’s educational improvement tax credit program, are proven to have positive outcomes for students. As a matter of fact, the Independent Fiscal Office’s Tax Credit Review, released in January 2022, stated that “for students that switch schools due to the credit, there is potential for better outcomes as a number of academic studies find a statistically significant impact on test scores and graduation rates for students that switch from a low-performing public school to a private school of choice.”
Many parents have seen their children and grandchildren make educational achievements they never would have thought possible were it not for education choice. This has been evident in my own household — a child scoring below basic in various subjects at the start of an educational move, only a few years later, tests in the proficient/advanced range across the board. This is due to our ability to move to an educational option that was right for her. All families and students cannot be expected to agree upon one, uniform education option to adequately serve every child.
Some profess that one education system harms or “defunds” the other in some way, or that education choice is “costing taxpayers,” as if you can somehow put a price on an individual child and their associated learning needs. In reality, regardless of the particular educational choice, the money simply moves to another “building,” but is still for the benefit of that child. And let’s be clear — for some families, that money doesn’t move with the child. Some families unjustly bear the financial burden — paying school taxes in addition to homeschooling or private school costs — some with no financial assistance at all.
School taxes are obtained to ensure a thorough and efficient education opportunity for a child, the direction of which should be determined by the needs and desires of the student. We are collectively called to help students cross unjust zip code boundaries so that they may enroll in an education program that best suits them. This isn’t even limited to modality, but should include occupational, arts, values, and academic focus. It is because of our families, and because of the ever-changing landscape of society, that our education options require flexibility. Chaining children to one standard educational option, or squelching the availability of alternate options, does not serve them.
We must allow our children alternatives to the traditional education system — not just for today’s children, but for tomorrow’s as well.
The two years of the pandemic have laid bare the inadequacies of our traditional education system, and it will take years for our children to catch up. We can no longer ignore how we got here and where we are, and God forbid we go back to how education used to be. We have learned so much, and it would be a waste to lose this opportunity to remake education for our children. We must allow our children alternatives to the traditional education system — not just for today’s children, but for tomorrow’s as well.
Let’s work together to:
- Explore, examine and employ methodologies to allow the funding to follow the student in his or her best educational pathway as determined by the parents.
- Comprehensively re-evaluate, with the participation of all stakeholders, all educational models to ensure student needs are being met fairly and consistently.
Barriers to educational choice must be dismantled. Children are being lost in a system that should be providing them with tools for a bright and empowered future. The families of our commonwealth are depending upon the General Assembly to launch us into a new education era that will be filled with opportunities for our children to learn in a safe and fulfilling environment from kindergarten to graduation; ushering in a new society in which students are no longer trapped in a school building based on demographics, zip codes, or finances.
This is not the time to be silent, but rather to show our children how much we care about them and their educational future. Pennsylvania parents need your robust support, in word and more importantly in deed, for the improvement and advancement of education for all of our children.
Sharon Sedlar is a mom in Allegheny County, PA. Her six children have benefited from private, district and charter education options. She is also founder of PA Families for Education Choice. www.paedchoice.org