By Susan Spicka
An Oct. 9 story in the Pennsylvania Capital-Star highlights a problem many voters face: In this pandemic, when many candidates do not hold public meetings, it is hard for voters to get information on where candidates stand.
Lawmakers’ policy choices have human consequences.
Whoever is elected to the General Assembly on Nov. 3 is going to need to reckon with a state budget that has been profoundly impacted by the COVID-19 economic downturn. State lawmakers will be faced with decisions about how to fund programs that will take care of people and move the Commonwealth forward, all while facing enormous revenue shortfalls.
In an effort to help voters understand candidates’ positions key issues related to public education, Education Voters of PA Action emailed a questionnaire to all candidates for Pennsylvania’s General Assembly.
We received a response from about one third of the candidates. They are posted on a website www.edvoterspaaction.org, where voters can search for candidate responses by district number. No response does not necessarily reflect that a candidate has a bad position on an issue.
Voters who want to learn about a candidates’ positions when there is no questionnaire response can visit their websites and use our questions to see if candidates have addressed key education issues, which include school vouchers/school privatization, charter school funding reforms, and equitable funding for districts where students lack the basic resources necessary to learn.
This is a high-stakes election for public school students.
The Legislature will need to grapple with the consequences of an inadequate and inequitable school funding system that has left students in the poorest communities with the greatest needs without basic resources necessary to ensure student success.
Students in many well-funded school districts have been able to return to in-person learning or engage in quality remote learning because they have access to highly-trained teachers, quality internet service, and personal computers.
Meanwhile, students in many high-poverty school districts—both rural and urban– have little hope of returning to in-person learning anytime soon because their districts do not have the resources they need to open safely.
Old buildings with a lack of space in classrooms for social distancing, poor ventilation, inadequate numbers of teaching staff, and other factors preclude students’ return to buildings.
And remote learning for many students in Pennsylvania’s poorest schools remains a struggle. While districts have made Herculean efforts to get laptops and internet service to students, significant gaps remain both because of a limited supply of available laptops and a broadband infrastructure that is based on a system of profit, not universal access.
Finally, underfunded school districts lack the resources necessary to support parents who are both helping students learn at home and working long hours or who have limited technical or teaching skills and may have difficulty assisting with online schoolwork.
The educational inequities that have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis have created growing and genuine concern about a generation of students whose schooling and emotional development have been so disrupted that it will be difficult for them to catch up without significant investments in supports for them in the future.
And it is even clearer now that our state’s schools will need to upgrade students’ skills to compete successfully in a technological age.
Lawmakers elected on Nov. 3 will make decisions that will have profound ramifications for students and families and for the future of the Commonwealth.
Let’s make sure we elect lawmakers who value public schools, prioritize equity in school funding, and who will support a system that works for all students.
Susan Spicka is the education policy director for Education Voters of PA Action. She writes from Shippensburg, Pa.
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