By Rep. Jesse Topper (R-Bedford/Fulton)
If there is anything that should promote unity and non-partisan work among government officials, it’s the education of our children. Instead, education has become the center of many of our partisan battles. This year felt different, almost hopeful, especially following a dramatic court ruling that essentially handed down a directive that we need to revamp our educational system in Pennsylvania so every child has access to a high-quality education.
Just a few short weeks ago, it felt as though that optimism of a new day in education was well founded. Gov. Josh Shapiro and Senate Republicans, along with Democratic Sen. Anthony Williams, had expressed support for a scholarship program designed to provide students who came from low-income families and resided in the lowest-performing school districts, an opportunity to be educated in a better performing school setting. This scholarship was included in the state budget in addition to more record funding for traditional K-12 public schools. This was not instead of, it was in addition to increased financial support for Pennsylvania’s public school system.
The scholarships would have been funded by $100 million, or just 0.2% of the entire budget, and would have been used by students trapped in the bottom 15% of public schools. If that same number were spread over those same school districts, the benefit per child would be much less. To put it simply, this relatively small amount of money would have been used to allow children and families to change the trajectory of their lives and give them an opportunity for success that they would not otherwise be afforded. Maybe it would have saved 500 kids, 250, maybe 100, but make no mistake, this targeted investment would have rescued children from situations where they simply have no opportunity in which to succeed. And ultimately, it was rejected when partisan politics reared its ugly head, and the status quo was forced upon families.
The Lifeline Scholarships, now known as Pennsylvania Award for Student Success (or PASS), is not the answer to all our problems in education, but it is a small piece of the overall puzzle and a life-changing piece for the kids who would benefit.
There is still time to include this measure in our current year budget while we look for more long-term solutions. Let’s not allow partisanship to rob these children of a brighter future. Let’s not allow the fear of change to be greater than our capacity to innovate. Let’s pass a budget that includes this lifeline for students and families and offer them a better future.
Representative Jesse Topper
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Greg Gross