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By Laura Johnson
Should every student in the Commonwealth have the educational resources they need to unlock their full potential?
I believe that if I posed that question to each member of the General Assembly, virtually everyone would say “Of course!”
Unfortunately, the obvious answer to that question seems to have little bearing on how the Legislature is actually funding education.
You see, right after answering “of course students should have an education that unlocks their full potential,” many lawmakers will follow up with some excuse for why ensuring student access to educational resources is not their responsibility. They may argue that school choice and privatization are where we should be focused, ignoring that these approaches have consistently failed to remedy, and often harm, the educational landscape for under-resourced students.
Others may argue that even if they did fully and fairly fund all students, it probably won’t make a difference in what students can achieve due to outside circumstances, and ask why they should ‘waste’ those resources.
Or some, like the counsel for the legislative respondents in the ongoing school funding court case, might imply that students in under-funded districts are somehow better suited for low-wage jobs anyway, and therefore don’t need the educational resources available in wealthier districts.
Does anyone believe that Pennsylvania lawmakers would accept such excuses if it were their own children who were being denied access to adequate educational resources? Would they accept that it was their children’s destiny to receive a subpar education just because of the zip code in which they live?
Of course they wouldn’t.
They wouldn’t accept their children missing out on art and music and advanced placement courses. They wouldn’t accept their children learning in dilapidated buildings with outdated textbooks and limited technology.
They wouldn’t accept their children being overcrowded in large classes and with only limited access to school librarians, nurses or guidance counselors.
They must refuse to accept such conditions for all Pennsylvania students. Our lawmakers have the ability and the constitutional responsibility to ensure that each and every student in the Commonwealth has access to a ‘thorough and efficient’ education, and we should accept nothing less.
Lawmakers are correct when they note that access to education is not the only factor in student outcomes. However, I know from being a school board member that even though I can’t fix everything in our students’ lives, I am still responsible and accountable to help create an educational environment that provides the greatest opportunity for their success.
Similarly, our lawmakers have a duty to every student in Pennsylvania to ensure that the public education system serves them by ensuring that funds are appropriated wisely and invested in a way that maximizes opportunity for the success of ALL students.
As the school funding trial comes to a close and budget season gets underway, I strongly hope that our lawmakers will live up to their responsibility to provide each student in the Commonwealth with adequate resources for a quality education. That would truly optimize the success of Pennsylvania students and communities alike.
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