Over the last couple of weeks, you may have heard the news about the Pennsylvania Award for Student Success program, or PASS. You may have also heard that this program, aimed at giving children in Pennsylvania’s poorest-performing schools a high-quality education, has been the center of the ongoing budget stalemate in Harrisburg.
I believe it is important to set the record straight on PASS and why I am a firm supporter of this program, which promises to help supplement and support Pennsylvania’s education system.
No matter a student’s race, sex, religion, zip code, or economic status, every child deserves access to a high-quality education. We all know that, above all else, education is the great equalizer and is the surest way to set children on the path of realizing their potential. The solid foundation that a quality education builds creates a lifetime of opportunity.
But an unfortunate reality for many students is that they will never realize these opportunities because they are trapped in a school system that has failed them. Through no fault of their own, they routinely are denied the opportunities afforded to other students, with little or no hope of changing this reality. The bottom 15 percent of Pennsylvania schools are performing woefully below acceptable levels of educational attainment:
- Only 7.6 percent of elementary students are proficient in math and 23.6 percent in English.
- Only 19.5 percent of high school students are proficient in math and 28.3 percent in English.
This is a reality I am not willing to accept for the next generation.
Every day that passes is one less day a child in a failing district has to receive a high-quality education. It is time that we provide hope for these families.
That is why I support the inclusion of the PASS program in our state’s 2023-24 budget. The program is simple: a student attending a school performing in the lowest 15 percent of achievement and living in a household 250 percent or below the federal poverty level ($75,000 for a family of four) can qualify for a scholarship to go to another, better-performing school.
For far too long, these families have had to resign themselves to a future of uncertainty, knowing they are not receiving the tools to succeed by a system they cannot escape. Under the PASS program, families without financial resources will now have a fair shot at options that level the playing field and enable parents to decide what is best for their children.
Some have claimed that PASS is an attack on public education funding. I wholeheartedly support public education, as I support all avenues that provide the fertile ground for children to grow and blossom into future leaders.
This program does not take one dollar away from public education and represents less than 0.2 percent of our state’s budget. In fact, the Senate has committed a historic $1 billion of new funding towards public schools, including basic and special education. These appropriations build on the previous General Assembly investments for basic education, which increased by $1.05 billion reoccurring over the last two fiscal years alone. That means that over the last three fiscal years, our schools are slated to receive more than $2 billion of new funding, which reoccurs yearly.
PASS, and the historic funding increases contained in our state budget can provide the first steps in building a stronger education system that begins to meet the standards of the recent Commonwealth Court decision on state funding for schools.
Most states already have similar initiatives as PASS, and two out of three Pennsylvanians support programs that give students enrolled in underperforming schools options.
Democrats, Republicans, and independents, including Gov. Josh Shapiro, have all expressed their support. He repeatedly expressed support for this concept when campaigning for governor, and I believe that the people elected him in large part because he supported this commonsense proposal.
Unfortunately, Gov. Shapiro changed his course and announced that he will veto the PASS program from the budget he helped negotiate. I hope he will reconsider his position and support thousands of students whose lives will be changed with the implementation of the PASS program.
It’s not too late for Gov. Shapiro to use his influence within his party to finalize a state budget that funds public schools at historic levels while providing hope to the thousands of families in need of the help that PASS offers.