On Monday and Tuesday of this week, I traveled to eastern Pennsylvania to attend the Senate Education Committee hearing and the GOP Policy Committee hearing for discussion on the proposed Pennsylvania Award for Student Success (PASS) program (formerly known as Lifeline). We heard testimony from four educators, one student, and five parents from the Philadelphia area.
Parents painstakingly told their stories, with their personal struggles and their fears for their children laid bare. Legislators thanked them for their courage. And then, in closing remarks at the Senate hearing, a visibly angry Senator Lindsey Williams stated that the Commonwealth had already heard from parents years before via the Fair Funding Lawsuit. She suggested that the result mandated increased funding, the solution for which was to be initiated by the Basic Education Funding Commission hearings commencing the next day.
She then gathered her belongings and stormed out of the room before adjournment. (So much for listening to parents, hearing their stories, and helping their children!)
READ MORE — Guy Ciarrocchi: Parents make the common-sense case for Lifeline Scholarships
To be clear, six school districts, three parents, and two associations filed the Fair Funding Lawsuit. A decision was recently rendered by Renee Cohn Jubelirer, President Judge, stating:
“…the Court concludes it requires that every student receive a meaningful opportunity to succeed academically, socially, and civically, which requires that all students have access to a comprehensive, effective, and contemporary system of public education…
“Petitioners satisfied their burden of establishing the Education Clause was clearly, palpably, and plainly violated because of a failure to provide all students with access to a comprehensive, effective, and contemporary system of public education….
“…Nothing in the foregoing opinion… requires reform to be entirely financial… The options for reform are virtually limitless. The only requirement… is that every student receives a meaningful opportunity to succeed academically, socially, and civically, which requires that all students have access to a comprehensive, effective, and contemporary system of public education.”
The purpose of legislative hearings is to listen to constituents, gain insight and information, and take it back to Harrisburg to implement policy consistent with what constituents need. In this case, the interested parties are our children and their families.
Our Commonwealth ranks #7 in per-student funding, but #29 in educational attainment and quality of education in the United States. In the House Policy hearing, Representative Rigby noted that only one-third of funding makes it to the student (he also noted that teachers aren’t benefiting from increased funding either).
But the problem is not simply the amount of funding. It is a need for the complete transformation of Pennsylvania’s entire K–12 education system.
While we undertake a years-long (or even decades-long) process to truly transform K–12 education, all children need support. Senator Anthony Williams said that he realizes a program like PASS is a “band-aid,” but a necessary one to save children in the trenches right now.
The Pennsylvania Awards for Student Success program:
- does not touch K–12 education funding.
- has income limits (starting with a family of four making $75,000 per year).
- would offer immediate relief to students living in school areas in the bottom 15% of academic performance.
Here are Governor Shapiro’s own words about education options:
This is not an either/or… I think this is a both/and. I think we can invest in public education and empower parents to put their kids in the best opportunity for them to succeed.
Three parents participated in the Fair Funding Lawsuit. Five parents testified this week in front of the Senate Education Committee and the GOP House Policy Committee. We are not disputing the judge’s decision. We are not denying that some schools may very well need additional funding. And we are not disparaging public education; after all, children deserve to receive the funding and resources available for their education, despite zip codes or finances.
Senator Lindsey Williams said that students and teachers are not “widgets,” and she is right. They have faces, names, stories, and needs. She forgot about the parents. The ones who live for their children. Sacrifice for them. Would do anything for them. The ones who know their own children best. The decisions should lie with them, and Pennsylvania’s job is to provide an education system that supports families. A system that helps children feel safe and provides an education in the best environment for each unique child, which should include district, homeschool, charter, micro-school, and private options.
Stop putting special interests in front of Pennsylvania’s children. Our Senate and Governor Shapiro have agreed to start bringing about positive change for those children most in need with the PASS program. It’s time for the House of Representatives to sign on as well.
Sharon Sedlar is Founder and CEO of PA Families for Education Choice.