Promises made, refused, and where that leaves PA’s children

March 5, 2024 | Sharon Sedlar

Governor Shapiro is not the only one “sick and tired of losing to friggin Ohio”.  It seems that every week brings with it another advancement for students, with 17+ states now leading the way in education freedom.   Pennsylvania consistently is not one of them.

Promises Made

A month before Governor Shapiro took office, he and his campaign decided to get on board with the school choice platform; stating that “every child of God” deserved an education that suited their unique needs; that it was a “both/and,” not an “either/or.” And this new-found position, coming on the heels of the Virginia election where a gubernatorial candidate lost because he did not support parental agency, made some suspicious.

The Governor made good on his promise for the “both/and” by pursuing LIfeline Scholarships/PASS, from which students in the lowest 15% performing schools could receive financial assistance, as negotiated with the PA Senate. But the agreement fell apart amidst budget negotiations with the House of Representatives, and it was ultimately line-item vetoed by the Governor, who left it as “unfinished business”, alluding to future prospects for the program. 

Promises Refused

In his budget address on February 6th, Governor Shapiro expressed how “sick and tired of losing” he is to other states – particularly Ohio. He is not the only one.

While happy for the 13 states with some type of education scholarship/savings accounts, and for those expanding their already existing programs, many are “sick” of seeing other, education choice and family-friendly states gain population while Pennsylvania loses it.

Not too long ago, Pennsylvania was celebrated as a leader in child-focused education options and freedom.  Not anymore – particularly with the refusal of Governor Shapiro to fight for not only the new options needed (and that he agreed to), but his apparent refusal to protect options that currently exist – like cyber charters.  Governor Shapiro endorses a flat tuition cyber charter rate (not based on PA-specific funding, data, or students by the way) that could jeopardize that education option.  It is uncertain how many cyber charters would survive such a cut, potentially leaving students and families, once again, scrambling.

Literacy and math proficiency rates for fourth graders in 2022 were 33.98 and 40.24 respectively – some schools with ZERO percent proficiency.  And these results are not that different from their highest proficiency point of 41.38 for reading or 47.88 in math in 2011. The failure of our education system to deliver is obvious based on proficiency stagnation for two decades.

Our education system is stressed due to COVID recovery, truancy challenges, technological, mental health, and societal and safety concerns. Not only are families leaving our Commonwealth, but they are also leaving the traditional and dysfunctional education system. More money is not going to fix a system in dire need of complete and total transformation, especially when you consider that only a small portion of funding even makes it into the classroom after salaries, benefits, facilities, supplies, pensions, and the like take their portion.  And how long will it take for the funding to make its way through the legislative process, to the Code Bill, district distribution, contracts, and ultimately to the classroom?  YEARS, with “the appropriate horizon for evaluating the impact of adequate funding”, per the Basic Education Funding Commission passed proposal, taking “a generation of students”.

A GENERATION.  That’s an average of 1.8 million students based on PA Department of Education projections for the next 5 years alone.

Just because we are funding education does not mean we are funding the kids.  How many millions of children are a suitable gamble?

Where does that leave “every child of God”?

What is Governor Shapiro’s solution to this crisis? Less funding to cyber charter students and potentially fewer education options. He has taken the “side” of those in our Capitol (which harken back to Governor Wolf’s tenure) who want to continue the same old, top-down, monetary feed to a system and model that fails hundreds of thousands of students every single day in Pennsylvania alone. Rather than provide opportunity and freedom, his budget address largely provides more (expensive) of the same. This is not “both-and”, and it certainly does not focus on “every child of God.”

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