Going to the top to lift up the bottom in Pennsylvania

Posted by By at 14 January, at 10 : 51 AM Print

The Senate has unveiled the meat of SB 1, the first bill of a new session and historically a designation that means its substance is a high-priority item. The topic this year is school choice, and it is an inspired, and politically courageous, choice.

I call it inspired because it goes to the root of most of our societal problems: education, or lack there of, and declining educational opportunities. The fact is and will always be that the most equalizing force in our society is education – it is more powerful than all of the social programs and forced diversity you can find.

School choice is effective. It gives those most at risk to be in a failing school – the economically disadvantaged – a lifeline. But it is unpopular in a state dominated by a huge and powerful teachers union, as well as hampered by more – which is why it is courageous. Sen. Williams and Sen. Piccola should be admired for doing what they know is best for their constituencies in the face of what will be intense opposition. And Sen. Williams is absolutely right: this is a civil rights issue.

Back in college I wrote that, as constructed, our educational system was desegregated along racial lines only to be re-segregated alone economic ones. Fourteen years later I am certain of it – and any education system that forces students to stay segregated into failing schools is unconscionable.

I live in Hershey, and for a reason – it has excellent schools. My kids will have the benefit of attending a school that will all but ensure their readiness for college, barring their following in their father’s footsteps of a misspent youth. My kids have this benefit solely because of an economic advantage – we could afford to live here.

Why on God’s green earth would we let this one fact – geography, determine the quality of a child’s education? Just 12 miles away there are kids who would appreciate and thrive in the school my kids will most likely take for granted — just as I took for granted State College’s advantages. How can I look at those kids – and their parents – and say too bad, so sad, move on?

I can’t morally, and I shouldn’t rationally. If you can’t be motivated by pure equity, how about self interest? Kids who don’t get a quality education – one that gives them a chance to achieve parity in both employment prospects and societal acceptance – are more likely to be the ones we pay to incarcerate later. Wouldn’t we all be better off if we spent the money on educating them as teenagers rather than feeding and housing them as adults?

And that is just scratching the surface. The more educated the individual, the greater their lifetime earnings. The more money they make, the more they will pay in taxes. As our citizens become better educated, our tax base will broaden and deepen. The investment, over time, pays itself back in simple economics – again, if you can’t be motivated be the sheer inequity of the system as it currently stands.

From the earliest days of my memory to the present – I am currently pursuing a master’s degree in Political Science – it has been hammered into my head that education was the one thing that could never be taken away and was the great equalizer.

It was what pulled my father’s working class Italian family up – my grandfather, in the midst of the great depression, attended college and law school at night while working two jobs. He did it because he KNEW that education was his path to a better life for himself and his family.

Almost 80 years later that is still true. And for us as a society to deny any possible means for a child to get the education they deserve and need is no better than enslaving them to a life of poverty, limited choices, and receding hope.

SB 1 is a step in the right direction. The time is right, and the votes are there. There may never be, in fact, a better moment to stand up to the teacher’s unions and say enough rationalizations and self serving opposition. If PSEA wants kids to stay in public schools, then those schools must compete with each other and other options. In the end, all will benefit, and the investment will be repaid in the countless minds we empower – minds that will find new ways to advance our world and make it better.

Sen. Piccola and Sen. Williams, men who represent parents and children who NEED these options, understand this and are willing to fight for the future of their constituents. Lets all hope that they have the compatriots in the legislature and the leader in the Governor’s mansion to open the doors of our best schools to all, and in so doing create a tide that raises all boats.

(Not everyone is under the belief that it is the right time to expand charter and cyber-schools. Click on Rock The Capital for a look at this issue from the other side.)

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This post was written by:
- who has written 77 posts for Rock The Capital
Scott Paterno is an accomplished policy analyst and political consultant based in Hershey, PA. Mr. Paterno, never one to sit still, has practiced law, run for a house seat, and worked as lobbyist in Harrisburg and Washington. Paterno is Vice Chairman of the Sustainable Energy Fund and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Political Science. He is happily married with three children. - Email scottp

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