It is within our national makeup for us to continue to extend the best wishes for each victim of COVID19, from the President of the United States and his family to the person that drove the local bus. Even in the midst of our civic discord, it is imperative for us to go higher when the depths of despair aggressively fight to pull us further down.
One way for us to honor those who fight this disease as victims, first responders, and medical professionals is to ensure that the most vulnerable in our nation – the children – are capable of seeing and pursuing a better future for themselves despite the soul-shaking woes that this pandemic has wrought on our economy, our social interactions, and our schools.
Whereas all children throughout this great land are struggling with picking up the pieces during a year where friendships have become long-distance relationships and birthday parties are forced to become “birthday parades”, those who are disproportionally impacted already due to poverty and other disadvantages in America are harmed in a much greater sense. If millions of kids have been knocked off-kilter due to the events of 2020, sadly thousands have been completely knocked off the road to scholastic success and lifelong self-sufficiency.
Just as we need to get America back on her feet, we need to get these children back on track. Thankfully enough, there are legislators who see the same need for immediate action.
Pennsylvania State House Representative Clint Owlett (R-Tioga County) and State Senator Judy Ward (R-Blair and Fulton Counties) have introduced bills in their respective chambers of the General Assembly to provide “back on track” emergency funding by way of CARES funding. This legislation, designed to provide a one-time, $1000 grant to all Pennsylvania school children regardless of the type of school they attend (i.e., public, public charter, parochial, private, cyber, homeschool), will aid in closing the academic gaps that have formed as a result of the 2020 pandemic. These gaps, coupled with the rigid and growing inequalities caused by the pandemic-driven shutdowns nationally, threaten to cost the United States and the global economy some $10 trillion in earning potential over the lifetime of today’s schoolchildren if we continue the current course of action.
With the rise of crime that we have seen in cities such as Philadelphia and New York in addition to the continued unrest we are seeing in places including Pittsburgh, it is imperative that people have an avenue through which to seek and secure equality, stability, and self-sufficiency in America. Education has always been that bridge from a turbulent and hopeless past to a future of fulfilled promise for Americans of all backgrounds, colors, and origin stories.
Monday’s hearing before the Keystone State’s Senate Education Committee is notable, as the push to provide funding to these most vulnerable Pennsylvanians is at a critical point. Not only is it vital to get children the support they need before another year of academic opportunity is lost, but it is also key that we re-direct our educational efforts towards channels that will yield the innovative skills and job readiness necessary to rebuild our nation past this global pandemic. With another 10 million jobs still needed to re-bolster our economy, in addition to the required jobs needed to keep up with population growth over the coming years, it is imperative that students most vulnerable to being left behind get back on track towards success with all deliberate speed.
Sadly, as with all things touching politics, there are special interest forces that would prefer the broken status quo over innovation that benefits us all, especially those who need a new direction that yields success.
Just last week, well-funded special interest groups pushed for provisions to limit the amount of help that the impoverished (i.e., those eligible for free and reduced lunches in schools) would receive. Further, they sought to restrict CARES Act funding in a manner that could force thousands of worthy scholarship recipients to drop out of high-quality schools where they are succeeding, only to enroll in failing schools struggling with chronic academic and societal woes. These groups argue that, despite state education funding increasing by $2 billion over the past 5 years alone (despite little-to-no population growth in two-thirds of Pennsylvania’s counties since 2010), pouring more money into the unjust and broken zip-code-derived school system is the best way to address our current challenge.
In essence, they believe that the best way to fix a unique challenge to millions is to take the same broken methods proven to be ineffective – all because of the political whims and the visionless actors in the process. How can we expect to get our children – and dare I say, our nation – back on track if we allow selfish politics and special interests to take education opportunity off the rails?
Effective leadership is the ability to engage uncommon challenges by incorporating innovation into the efforts, avoiding past mistakes, and infusing hope where disillusionment has taken root. Crisis moments yield opportunities to both meet our goals and instill confidence once again. However, that takes courage to fight appropriately and conviction to substantive principles that supersede special interest groups. The efforts at the federal level for education equity options for the most disadvantaged Americans, coupled with the notable efforts being pursued in the Keystone Stone, are key maneuvers in the battle to win back the full potential of America’s future. They are steps to make whole our children’s academic endeavors, regardless of the pandemic-impacted times.
If government spends our resources in an emergency fashion to address a traumatic event, we must ensure that these dollars are spent effectively and efficiently while done in a manner that empowers us through uplifting our children, not merely placating broken systems. Many education professionals are often only experts at the broken education system, while parents are generally always experts at the needs of their children. To get us all back on track, we need the experts on children to be at the forefront of the innovative steps to close the gaps facing us now. To get our future back to the richness it can have, we need education to get “Back on Track”.