It’s About the Kids

“It’s about the kids.”  From the time I was first elected to the General Assembly, these are the words I’ve been hearing about education:  “it’s about the kids.”  The drumbeat became louder during my tenure as chair of the Senate Education Committee:  “it’s about the kids.”

A recent decision by the Pennsylvania Department of Education has me wondering about what’s most important to education:  is it really “about the kids?”  I’m especially concerned about the education of approximately 335 students within my District who live in Highspire.

In 2014, Highspire residents initiated action to move students from the Steelton-Highspire School District to the Middletown Area School District.  Their argument was such a transfer would be in the best educational interest of present and future school-age children living in Highspire.

Both the Steelton-Highspire and Middletown Area School Districts opposed this proposed transfer.  Steel-Hi was “opposed to this transfer based on the negative impact to educational quality this transfer will have on the remaining Steelton students and on the Highspire students, were they to transfer . . . .”  The School District added to its strong opposition citing the financial ramifications such a transfer would have on remaining students.

The Middletown Area School District also opposed the transfer of students from Highspire to their school district.  Middletown strongly believed the proposed transfer would adversely impact its student class size, special education service, and overall academic achievement, particularly at the elementary level.

While I don’t question the opinions of the parents or the positions of the two school districts, this proposed transfer of 335 students is precisely why I support educational choice.  I believe kids win when parents choose.  I simply don’t believe a child’s education should depend upon their zip code.

There are a number of plans for school choice.  Charter schools are publicly-funded schools that operate under a charter – often without some of the government regulations imposed on other public schools.

Cyber charter schools are also schools of choice but they teach students entirely or primarily online or through the internet.  Cyber schools and homeschooling are similar in that students’ education is usually dependent upon a parent or tutor.

Private schools rely upon finding their own funding:  tuition paid by parents, grants, donations, endowments, and sometimes vouchers.  Some private schools are affiliated with religious groups, like Catholic parochial schools.  Parents choosing this educational option need to cover the tuition costs that are in addition to the school taxes they pay to fund public schools.

Opponents of school choice are quick to criticize these options.  They don’t like charter and cyber charter schools.  They often have little or no respect for home schoolers.  School vouchers:  don’t ever go there – especially for private and parochial schools as vouchers would destroy education as we know it.

You can add to educational opponents’ list a recent legislative proposal to help students in persistently underperforming schools through the establishment of education savings accounts (ESAs).  This plan would allow approved families to withdraw their students from underperforming schools and receive the average state funding per pupil – deducted from the local district’s state education subsidy – as a grant from an account held in the Pennsylvania Treasury.

I believe ESAs would be a good way to help students like the 335 who live in Highspire.  Opponents disagree and they’ve been successful in keeping ESA legislation from advancing in the General Assembly.  They again say giving parents the resources and the ability to choose where their children go to school would hurt the overall education system.

And, I thought education was supposed to be all about the kids?