Politically motivated attack piece won’t help Lancaster County students

By Senators Ryan P. Aument and Scott Martin

A recent opinion editorial in LNP made several wildly false accusations about our policy positions pertaining to education. We welcome the opportunity to set the record straight.

To be clear, we have both consistently supported measures that benefit all schools, including public schools. We both have family in the public education system. We both have loved ones who are current and former school teachers.

For someone to suggest that either one of us has ever voted against the interests of Lancaster County students and schools is both deeply inaccurate and incredibly offensive.

Every vote we take in the Senate Education Committee is based on the idea of supporting a quality education not just for children in Lancaster County, but also for the rest of Pennsylvania.

That means supporting many different pathways to learning. That means supporting students, not systems. That means supporting parents to make decisions for their children and put them in the best environment to learn.

Should we deny children with socioeconomic challenges the opportunity to better themselves? Do we turn a blind eye to children who are in an unsafe learning environment and have nowhere else to turn? Are we supposed to ignore the needs of children who might learn better in an online environment? What about children with special needs who might learn better in a school specifically designed for their unique needs?

The clear reality is that our public school system is not equipped to perfectly educate every child, and no amount of state funding will change that. For that reason, we should embrace alternative pathways to learning – not falsely portray them as a drain on public schools, as the op-ed does on multiple occasions.

Instead of addressing these issues in a fair and honest way, this misguided op-ed repeats numerous talking points that have been roundly debunked. For the record:

  • Pennsylvania schools are not underfunded. They have received billions upon billions in new funding in recent years, and PA ranks among the top in the nation in terms of total spending on education.
  • The Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) Program does not defund public education in any way, shape or form – a fact the Department of Education confirmed during this year’s budget hearings.
  • There is ample evidence that school choice improves educational outcomes, both here in PA and throughout the country.

The authors’ useless rhetoric does nothing to further discussions on how to best meet the needs of students and meaningfully engage parents. It just recites dollars-and-cents arguments without context and repeats attacks on any attempts to educate children outside of the public school system.

Imagine the arrogance of thinking dollars spent on anything other than school districts is wasteful. Imagine the ignorance of thinking traditional public education is the ONLY education worth funding. Imagine manufacturing claims of defunding schools while the whole world knows they’re receiving billions upon billions of new dollars.

We have said it before, but it bears repeating: charter schools ARE public schools. They are not an enemy to be vilified and defeated. To do so would betray their mission of educating students who need more individualized learning options that public schools can’t provide.

As for our support for scholarships to help parents decide the best educational options for their kids, evidence throughout the country shows that competition breeds success. Cutting off that option will only hurt students of a lower socioeconomic status who could not attend a different school without getting a scholarship.

It is also important to note EITC dollars support public schools as well – not just private institutions.

It is also worth noting that they criticized Lifeline Scholarships that provide a way to help disadvantaged students in historically underperforming schools – a concept with broad public support and the backing of both the Democrat and Republican candidates for Governor.

As students now begin to emerge from the learning loss of the pandemic, now would be the worst time to take away the ability of Pennsylvania families to explore educational opportunities that best suit their learning needs.

Their op-ed also begs the question: if the authors are demanding assurances that new funding for charter schools and scholarships will yield educational improvements, why are they not demanding the same from our public school system?

The answer is simple: they already know it won’t.

Since Governor Wolf has been in office, the General Assembly has increased education spending in PA by $3.7 billion, yet there has been no meaningful increase in the number of public school students scoring proficient or advanced on PSSA and Keystone Exams – even before the pandemic.

We already know that throwing more money at the problem won’t solve anything. Some are just too stubborn to admit it.

Finally, the op-ed suggests we are not listening to the voice of our constituents. This laughable assertion represents a fundamental misunderstanding (or willful ignorance) of how we do our jobs. Unlike us, the authors obviously don’t want to listen to the historic number of parents pleading for better or safer opportunities to meet their children’s needs.

We both take pride in all the ways we engage our constituents, including town halls and numerous meetings throughout the year. This legislative session, the Senate Education Committee held four hearings on educational reforms and charter schools, and three hearings on COVID impacts on schools, among others.

As a result, we have both been elected and re-elected by strong majorities of our constituents. To be criticized now by political opportunists who couldn’t be bothered to utter a single word of opposition to Governor Wolf’s school closures, mandates and lockdowns – and all the damage these decisions inflicted on kids – will not change our viewpoints one iota.

We will continue to engage in meaningful discussions on these issues with parents, teachers and students. That won’t change because of self-appointed advocates sitting behind a desk, penning poorly contrived attack letters.

This op-ed first appeared in LNP on September 25, 2022. 

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