I am the daughter, niece, and granddaughter of public school teachers. I learned through them what commitment to future generations looks like. Pennsylvania has fallen short on our obligation to today’s and tomorrow’s kids by allowing inequality to damage our once admirable educational system. Education is the best way to enable children to grow up productive members of our communities, but the legislature has allowed the quality of education to be unevenly distributed such that wealth, not education, is the top indicator of a child’s future potential. That is not fair, that is not American, and that is not what built this country into the powerhouse of the 20th century. If I achieve nothing else, I am committed to ensuring that every child in the Commonwealth has a quality education in easy reach. This demands that the distribution of funds be fair, deliberate, and focused on the long-term good.
If a community cannot provide excellence in its public education, then it is failing not only the children of that community, but the future of that community. A strong education empowers students and equips them to be self-reliant, and to become the change-makers of tomorrow. I envision a Pennsylvania in which every single child can access the high quality public education that they deserve, regardless of their zip code. Through programs like EITC and OSTC, funding has been diverted to charter schools and private education at the expense of our public education system. Rather than repairing fundamental problems in too many of our districts, the current policies simply continue the neglect.
Programs that claim to provide families with choice but that actually move people from quality public education to less accountable for-profit schools both increase inequality and undermine the very premise of a commonwealth. As a result of the House leadership’s programs, Pennsylvania’s funding gap between rich and poor school districts is higher than any other state in the nation. The state’s poorest school districts receive 33.5% fewer dollars per pupil than the richest districts — a figure made even more stark in comparison to the next worst state figures, Vermont’s gap of only (!) 18.1%. We can do better for our children.
If this makes you both sad and angry, then help me fight to change it. I will fight for more fair and intelligent funding for our public schools, ensuring that every family in Pennsylvania has legitimate and accessible options for quality education. I will hold charter schools to the same standard as traditional public schools and will work to reverse the disparity created by Harrisburg leadership. I will advocate for a culture that restores respect for public education and incentivizes young adults to pursue the kinds of satisfying careers as educators that my family had.
There is money to do this, if I succeed in making education a priority in Harrisburg again. With a fair severance tax on oil and gas drilling in Pennsylvania, we can dedicate a portion of the revenue to improving our schools and protecting the environment without adversely impacting the economic benefits of the industry. I will explore alternatives to our heavy reliance on property taxes as a means of funding education so that no one feels their taxes are being exported to fund schools outside their communities. But in the short term I will create more even-handed distribution of Pennsylvania funding to create a fairer education landscape that will benefit us all.
But it isn’t just our primary and secondary schools that face funding challenges. Though our public universities and community colleges are outstanding institutions, their skyrocketing tuition has made them increasingly unaffordable. A college education is still a key to higher lifetime earnings. I pledge to combat the waste in our public post-secondary system and insist on more accountability and transparency, while working to increase funding where it is most needed. Knowing that our economy is ever changing, I will expand job training programs and incentivize the creation of paid apprenticeships and work-study programs to ensure that every Pennsylvanian who wants a well paying job will have the skills to enter or remain in the workforce.
I have two children in public school. My husband and I received our educations at public schools. This issue is personal to me. I want to see my children and their peers all throughout the state get the tools they need to lead successful, productive lives. When our kids succeed, we all benefit. High quality education should not be a luxury for the wealthy but a foundation for all Pennsylvania’s children and the future of the Commonwealth.