Soldiers lining up for the annual New York City Veterans Day Parade (Getty Images)
By Irv Halter
America is living through a divisive and polarizing time. The normal political and ideological passions that have been with us since before our nation’s founding – which often nourish our democracy – have intensified to the point of threatening our future. And worse, it is happening against a backdrop of renewed and dangerous international instability.
Throughout our history, times of peril have usually brought Americans together. Over the past several years, the pandemic and political upheaval have had the opposite effect. Unfortunately, our schools have too often been on the frontlines of our bickering, as parents and educators have heatedly debated the best approach to educating our children and keeping them safe.
With the COVID-19 threat apparently subsiding and our largely unified efforts opposing Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, it is time to begin focusing on what unites us rather than divides us.
A good start is to recognize that, regardless of individual parents’ perspectives on how best to navigate the pandemic and other issues, most are coming to the debate wanting what’s best for their children and community. Hopefully, we can all agree that a quality education opens opportunities for students and clears a path to their’s, and our nation’s, future success.
As our economy roars back and employers struggle to find and retain qualified workers, we should also agree that we need to have a skilled, competitive workforce, with an effective education as its foundation.
The impacts of a quality education reach even further, to our nation’s very security. The Department of Defense and military leaders have in recent years struggled to find enough qualified recruits. Among Pennsylvanians of military service age, only about one in four qualifies to join the service. The rest must be rejected because of their educational deficiencies, poor health, or criminal records. These deficiencies are an issue for civilian employers as well.
Research shows that there is a close and significant relationship between the quality of education for a child and success as an adult. There is an undeniable positive link between a good education, graduation rates, gainful employment, physical and mental health, and overall quality of life. Conversely, the lack of high-quality schools often leads to poverty, poor health, and all too frequently, high crime rates.
So, there should be widespread agreement that a quality education for all children is a top priority. We know that when Pennsylvania’s public schools are funded adequately, they do an exceptional job of preparing our children for careers, post-secondary education, or even military service.
As with any other major endeavor, educational success takes significant investment. In other words, you only get what you pay for.
Unfortunately, Pennsylvania has underfunded our schools to the tune of $4.6 billion over more than a decade. In fact, there is presently a historic school funding lawsuit here in Pennsylvania, where families and school districts are suing the state because of years of inadequate funding.
While opponents of increased investment argue that Pennsylvania already spends more than most states on K-12 education, looking at total spending is an oversimplification. Some districts can leverage local wealth and property values to generate significant local revenue, but most others don’t have the same luxury. In fact, most school districts – about 85 percent of them – are spending far less than required to allow their students to thrive. Can we agree that all those young Pennsylvanians deserve a great education, too?
This year, with state government carrying a multi-billion-dollar surplus, there is an opportunity to begin fixing this disparity. Gov. Tom Wolf has proposed that Pennsylvanians make a down payment on the state’s $4.6 billion education funding gap by increasing state funding by $1.75 billion.
The future prosperity and security of our communities, state and nation relies on our ability to prepare the next generation of parents, business owners, private and public employees, members of the armed forces – all citizens – for the challenges ahead.
This bold investment in the next generation is something on which all of us, regardless of our other disagreements, should unite. Let’s get behind this school funding initiative now. America’s future success depends on it!
Maj. Gen. Irv Halter (USAF, ret) writes from Philadelphia.
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