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OPINION: PA Students Are Struggling to Read –We Must Help Them

It’s time to sound the alarm on early literacy in Pennsylvania.

Almost half of fourth graders across our state are reading below grade level, a challenge that exists in every corner of our state — from urban cities to our rural communities. Research has consistently shown that early literacy is critical to academic success and long-term achievement. A strong, evidence-based reading program, beginning in kindergarten and continuing into the third grade and beyond, gives students the best possible chance to maximize their education.

Because we are not born with the natural ability to read, the skills that lead students to become competent, lifelong readers must be explicitly and systematically taught at a young age with ample opportunity for practice and improvement.

As policymakers, we have the ability to ensure our students get the reading support they need in those early years so they can succeed later on in life.

Currently, one in five American adults struggle with reading basic sentences. For these individuals, tasks such as reading the mail, completing tax forms, or even engaging in civic duties can be nearly impossible.

Literacy cannot be a skill reserved for wealthy families and those who can afford private tutoring. Learning to read is a challenge for many, and that challenge does not discriminate.

To improve early literacy in Pennsylvania, we are sponsoring legislation mirroring a bipartisan proposal from Reps. Justin Fleming and Jason Ortitay that uses a three-pronged approach.

First, it bolsters reading instruction with evidence-based reading curricula, ensuring literacy achievement for children across the Commonwealth. Second, struggling readers will be identified through a universal screening within the first 30 days of school. Finally, looking at the screening data will help schools and educators design and implement intervention plans to prevent children from falling behind.

When states take this comprehensive approach, positive outcomes for students rise. FloridaMississippiNorth Carolina, and South Carolina have all showed and continue to show us what is possible when a comprehensive law is adopted and implemented with fidelity.

After Mississippi’s literacy program was passed in 2013, the state rose from 49th in 4th grade reading to 21st in the nation.

After two years of statewide teacher training in the science of reading, the latest assessment results also showed that North Carolina students in grades K-4 made greater mid-year gains than students in other states using the same assessment, with the percentage of kindergarten students meeting the benchmark almost doubling from 28 percent to 56 percent.

Those are the kind of results Pennsylvania families deserve, and we can’t afford to wait. Researchers have spent decades determining which approaches work best to teach reading, but if our teachers don’t have the resources they need to educate our kids, our outcomes are unlikely to improve. The pandemic brought uncertainty and turmoil to our lives, and our kids need us now more than ever. Literacy is a great equalizer. Whether a person can read is a critical predictor of educational and lifelong success. We cannot afford to have almost half of our students falling short of that goal.

By providing support for early literacy development, our legislation has the potential to make a meaningful difference in the lives of countless Pennsylvania children and ensure they are able to reach their full potential.

Investing in education means investing in the future of our state and opening all students up to a lifetime of success.

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Three GOP Holdouts Fail to Stop Shapiro Ed Secretary’s Confirmation

Three contrarian votes from Republican senators—including one from the Delaware Valley—failed to halt the confirmation of Gov. Josh Shapiro’s pick for education secretary this week.

On Monday, the Republican-controlled Senate’s education committee approved Acting Education Secretary Khalid Mumin. He was formerly superintendent of the Lower Merion and Reading School Districts. The full Senate subsequently affirmed the pick, voting 46-3 to confirm Mumin.

The three holdouts were all Republicans: Jarrett Coleman (Bucks and Lehigh), Doug Mastriano (Adams and Franklin), and John DiSanto (Dauphin County).

Coleman and Mastriano did not respond to requests for comment on their votes. DiSanto, meanwhile, said Mumin is too firmly embedded in an education system needing change.

“Pennsylvania ranks 8th nationally in per-student education spending, yet we lag in student achievement,” DiSanto told DVJournal. “The emphasis is always on more money when we need fundamental changes in the system.”

“The secretary has been part of that system for 25 years, and I don’t believe he’s capable of or interested in making the reforms needed,” he added.

Mumin began teaching in 1997. Shapiro tapped him for the acting secretary post in January, shortly before the governor’s inauguration.

The secretary won praise during his tenure as Reading superintendent. The district had been amid financial turmoil at the time of his arrival and had seen multiple superintendents in a short period. The prior director, Carlinda Purcell, had been relieved of her position after just 17 months on the job.

In 2021, the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrations selected Mumin as its Pennsylvania Superintendent of the Year, describing the significant challenges the administrator faced when he began the job.

“In 2014, when Dr. Mumin began his tenure as superintendent, he was confronted with 19 buildings of failing infrastructures, eight bargaining units without contracts for five years, and a district having little to no transparency with either staff or constituents,” the PASA said, claiming that Reading was “a district facing a financial crisis – along with a looming state takeover.”

Mumin “demonstrated visionary leadership right from the start to get the district back on a positive track and focused on academic growth and support,” the group said.

Senate Education Committee Chair Sen. Dave Argall said in a press release that the committee “performed [its] constitutional duty” in voting Mumin through.

“I look forward to working with him to improve our education system,” Argall said.

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Scanlon Denounces Parents’ Rights Bill as ‘Right-Wing Straight Jacket’

House Republicans passed the federal Parents Bill of Rights Act on Friday over the unanimous opposition of congressional Democrats, including the Delaware Valley delegation.

The legislation expands the rights of parents to be informed about the materials their children are taught, the medical care and counseling they receive at school, and any violence that occurs on campus.

Pennsylvania Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-Chester), an outspoken opponent, denounced the legislation as a “right-wing straight jacket.”

“My colleagues on the other side of the aisle often talk about being the party of small government and local control,” Scanlon said during Thursday’s floor debate. “They condemn the intrusion of the federal government into local affairs,” she continued. “But this legislation is nothing more than an attempt to nationalize our education system and mandate a one-size-fits-all approach across the country.”

“Assuming the size that fits,” she added, “is a right-wing straight jacket.”

Democrats broadly condemned the bill in general. New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez suggested the law was an example of “fascism,” while her fellow New Yorker Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries claimed Republicans were seeking to “ban books” and “bring guns into classrooms, kindergarten, and above.”

The measure passed 213-208, with five Republicans joining Democrats in opposition. Local Democratic Reps. Scanlon, Madeleine Dean, and Chrissy Houlahan voted no. Republican Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick voted yes.

Scanlon’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

Democrats claimed the legislation is “anti-gay” and “anti-trans” because it forbids federally funded schools from hiding a student’s transgender identity from their parents. Currently, some public school systems, including some in the Delaware Valley, instruct teachers and administrations to keep children’s behavior secret from parents, even if that means lying to moms and dads.

The law also directs schools to make all reading materials within a school’s library available to parents upon request.

Pennsylvania GOP Rep. Dan Meuser wrote on Twitter that the bill would grant parents “the right to be heard,” “the right to know what their kids are being taught,” “the right to reasonably protect their children’s privacy,” and “the right to keep their kids safe.”

Rep. John Joyce, a Republican representing central Pennsylvania,  said the bill is “a strong step towards supporting Pennsylvania parents and students.”

The bill’s passage is almost certainly doomed to fail in the Democratic-controlled Senate. It would also be highly unlikely to clear President Joe Biden’s veto.

The text of the bill also stipulates that parents shall retain “the right to review, and make copies of, at no cost, the curriculum of their child’s school,” as well as the right to know if a school employee moves to “treat, advise, or address a student’s mental health, suicidal ideation, or instances of self-harm.”

Federally funded schools would also be required to obtain parental consent before “allowing a child to change the child’s sex-based accommodations, including locker rooms or bathrooms.”

Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Bucks) added to the bill an amendment requiring the federal government to assess the “costs to State educational agencies, local educational agencies, elementary schools, and secondary schools” resulting from the act.

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DelVal Pols Applaud Shapiro’s Budget Plan

Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro presented his first budget Tuesday, laying out $44.4 billion in spending for fiscal year 2023 in a lengthy speech to legislators.

Shapiro acknowledged divided politics would make passing any proposal more challenging, but he urged legislators to look beyond partisanship.

“Pennsylvania is one of only two states with a divided legislature,” said Shapiro. “Together, we represent many Pennsylvanians who also divided their vote… Through their ballots, they asked us implicitly to come to the table, put aside the partisan litmus tests, and deliver commonsense solutions to the very real problems that we are facing every day.”

Shapiro’s proposed budget increases spending on education as a response to a Commonwealth Court decision, spending on mental health services for students, emphasizes vocational-technical training and incentives for new police officers, nurses, and teachers to address shortages in those jobs.

“Policing is a noble profession and good people want to do it,” said Shapiro, the former state attorney general.

The proposed budget includes a $567.4 million increase or 7.8 percent for basic education and an increase of $103.8 million for special education. He also proposes taxpayer-funded free breakfast for all public school children.

Shapiro would expand the property tax and rent rebate program for seniors and the disabled.   He would also eliminate the state cell phone tax, which equals 11 percent of cell phone bills.

A new program would spend $10 million on public defenders and improve probation and parole programs to improve the state’s 64 percent recidivism rate.

Other plans would eliminate regulatory red tape for new businesses and he also urged the legislature to hasten the pace of planned business tax reductions, so companies relocate to Pennsylvania rather than other states.

“I am competitive as hell, and I am sick and tired of losing to other states,” Shapiro said.

The general fund surplus and the rainy fund are the largest in the state’s history, he noted. Their budget is based on conservative revenue estimates, he said.

However, state Republicans said, if adopted, this budget would spend down the state’s reserves and lead to future tax increases by introducing new ongoing programs without revenue streams to fund them.

Reactions from Delaware Valley politicos were largely positive from both sides of the aisle.

“After hearing the Governor’s budget address, I believe there are many areas where we will find common ground and some significant places where continued work is needed,” said Sen. Tracy Pennycuick (R-Bucks/Montgomery). “I was pleased that the governor chose to support several important family and senior-centric programs. I would have liked to have seen renewed commitment towards Lifeline scholarships and Educational Improvement Tax Credit Program (EITC) expansion to ensure that children have additional avenues to obtain a high-quality education.”

Rep. Kristin Marcell (R-Bucks), who serves on the appropriations committee said, “While I look forward to working with the governor to pass a fiscally responsible commonsense budget, how we get there is critical. The governor’s plan to deplete our budget reserves and the Rainy Day Fund is concerning. With economists projecting an economic slowdown, if not a recession, it is imperative we preserve these funds to manage any revenue shortfalls.”

Sen. Frank Farry (R-Bucks) liked some of what Shapiro proposed, including more for mental health services and removing state police funding from the transportation funding stream. He is also in favor of “right-sizing” higher education and investing in public schools.

Democratic legislators applauded Shapiro.

Sen. Amanda Cappelletti (D-Montgomery) tweeted, “Our minimum wage in PA is shameful. We must #RaiseTheWage and ensure our workers have what they need to provide for themselves and their families. I’m glad to hear @GovernorShapiro call for a $15 minimum wage during today’s budget address.”

But Commonwealth Foundation Vice President Nate Benefield said called the proposed budget “disappointing, giving the bipartisan issues Shapiro campaigned on” such as working with the legislature on getting the state out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which increases electricity costs to consumers, and on school choice.

And he said as for the recent court ruling on education funding, Shapiro is wrong.

The recent education funding lawsuit ruling didn’t order “more money”.

“In fact, Pennsylvania already spends $4,000 per student more than the national average, even before last year’s record increase,” said Benefield. “What the ruling said was that every student must get a ‘meaningful opportunity.’ The only way to deliver this is through educational choice. But Gov. Shapiro walked back on his campaign promise to expand educational opportunity and instead throws money at the same broken system.”

Republican commentator Guy Ciarrocchi urged Republicans to seize the opportunity to pass GOP priorities Shapiro claims to embrace.

“Shapiro stated he wants to make it easier to get permits and licenses; eliminate the cell phone tax; cut business taxes and make it easier for students to learn trades for careers. These are commonsense ideas that the GOP has been fighting for. Pass those bills and put them on his desk—and, help the citizens of Pennsylvania,” Ciarrocchi said.

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DeSantis Touts His Pro-Police, Pro-Education Credentials at Montco Stop

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis highlighted law and order and education during a President’s Day stop in Montgomery County.

Although DeSantis has not announced a 2024 GOP presidential primary bid, his day started with speeches in New York followed by his visit to the American Legion Post in Fort Washington, before heading on to Chicago.

Several hundred politically active Republicans and elected officials warmly applauded his remarks.

“We are the nation’s fastest-growing state,” DeSantis said of Florida. “That’s just people voting with their feet, and they’re not going to go to a place that’s not managed well, that’s not governed well, that’s not safe. We’re number one. I think every year since I’ve been governor in net in-migration.” Also, Florida is “number one in economic freedom, number one in new business formation…number one in GDP growth, number one in education freedom, number one in parental involvement in education.”

The state has lower taxes, no state income tax, and a record budget surplus.

While low taxes are a good reason to move to Florida, “our commitment to public safety and our support for the men and women in law enforcement” is also a major draw he said.

“People in southeast Pennsylvania have seen a lot of the disaster in places like Philadelphia, which we’ve seen in New York City, which used to be one of the safest big cities in the world. Then you look at Chicago, Seattle… In Florida, our crime rate is at a 50-year low. So how is it you have it going up in so many of these other areas?

“We’re not any better than anybody else. We just have good policies, and we have leaders that will stand behind the people that wear the uniform.”

DeSantis contrasted his approach to law enforcement with those advocating “defund the police” politics.

“You had major cities slashing police budgets, really for ideological reasons, not that it was proven it would help the public safety,” DeSantis said. And, he added, Florida gives a $5,000 incentive to officers who move there from other states, along with other benefits. Current officers received $1,000 bonuses.

When he saw the riots of 2020 DeSantis said, “Not on my watch,” and called up the national guard. He also got the state legislature to pass an anti-rioting bill to make sure violent protesters were prosecuted.

“If you riot, if you engage in mob violence in the state of Florida, it isn’t going to be like Portland, where they take your mugshot, slap you on the wrist, and put you back on the street to do it again. In Florida, you’re not getting a slap on the wrist. You’re getting the inside of a jail cell.” Also, there are additional penalties for assaulting a police officer. “I’m not going to have these officers just be sitting ducks.”

Unlike Florida, some big cities are “putting woke ideology ahead of public safety.” DeSantis’ arguments got a boost from the latest news out of Austin, Texas, where street racers took over multiple intersections across the city, using their vehicles to spin doughnuts in the streets and lighting fireworks. They left one police officer injured and damaged several squad cars. Austin slashed police spending by 30 percent in 2021 but has since reversed course.

“Just the contempt of some of these politicians attacking police was really a low point…It has absolutely painted a target on the back of people who wear the uniform. You see it in New York City. Unfortunately, we just saw it at Temple. And I think if somebody goes out and murders a police officer, they should get the death penalty.”

The audience applauded in response. Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro (D) announced last week he would not sign any death penalty warrants and is urging an end to the policy in the state.

In Florida, “we don’t have tolerance for prosecutors who get elected, largely with big contributions from leftists like George Soros…they say it’s their job to determine what laws should be enforced. Not you, the people who make laws through your elected legislators…these prosecutors are “a law unto themselves.”

He said he removed a prosecutor who refused to enforce the law.

DeSantis pivoted to education.

“If you send your kids to school in Florida, they’re going to get an education, not a political indoctrination,” said DeSantis. “Is it okay to tell a second grader they are born in the wrong body? In Florida, we think the answer to that question is no.”

“People that said this was going to hurt me in the election are very quiet after we won by 1.5 million votes,” he said. “We did tussle with Disney. They’d had for 60 years their own government that they operated and controlled in the state of Florida. Those days are over.”

“Then you also have things like critical race theory, where they try to racialize,” said DeSantis. “If you’re a young White kid they say, ‘You’re an oppressor.’ If you’re Black they say, ‘You’re oppressed.’ And this is just crazy that they want to do this.

“So we said no critical theory in K-12 schools. And some of this critical theory is teaching that police officers are just gunning down minorities with impunity.” It creates a hatred of law enforcement in young children, he said.

Bucks County Sheriff Fred Harran introduced DeSantis.

“The police are the public, and the public are the police, and the public must have confidence in the police in order to be safe,” he said. “There must be accountability (for those who commit crimes).” While the suburban countries still adhere to that credo, many cities, including Philadelphia, do not, Harran added.

“Back when I took the test in 1986 (to become an officer), there were 1,400 people [taking the test]. Now we’re lucky if we get 100, 125.”

Afterward, Harran said he supported DeSantis “as the governor of Florida, and we’ll see what road the governor takes. Any comment (on supporting DeSantis for president) would be premature, but I like what I heard today.”

Upper Salford Area 3 GOP leader Kurt Stein said DeSantis has “a great message. And I think it resonates with everyone. We need law enforcement to be able to do their jobs without having district attorneys not obeying the laws of the state. And the most important things to people are schools and crime, and he hit all of that. Woke ideology is destroying the country our founding fathers created.”

State Sen. Tracy Pennycuick (R-Montgomery/Bucks) called DeSantis “impressive.”

“I think he has the right message at the right time,” said Rep. Craig Williams (R-Chadds Ford). “One thing we can do right now is stand up with our votes and say, ‘We support our police.’”

And Liz Havey, Montco Republican chair, said, “DeSantis talked about solutions and the crowd loved it. Law enforcement is critical to society and working with them and supporting them like Gov. DeSantis has helped Florida have a  record low crime rate–just the opposite of what we are living with in Philadelphia, where elected officials have done the opposite.”

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CLARK: School Choice Provides Opportunity for PA Kids

I believe in school choice for Pennsylvania because I am a product of school choice. I attended private and public schools through the 70s and 80s. Also, I appreciate the high-quality education my children and grandchildren have received at public brick-and-mortar charter schools, cyber public charter schools, traditional public schools, and private schools.

It has been amazing to choose for each of my children and grandchildren which schools met their unique needs. I am proud to say that my adult children all contribute positively to our society from the skills and knowledge they acquired at Pennsylvania Schools.

They have cultivated the entrepreneurial spirit into their work lives directly from education choices. My oldest granddaughter has been accepted to six universities here in Pennsylvania due to her public charter school and private school education. Also, arduous work on her part. She credited her success to the charter school, giving her a sense of community, and her private school gave her coursework that excelled her learning. Would these outcomes be the same if my zip code had dictated the schools?

The ongoing debate around funding school choice in Pennsylvania has damaged our national and local reputation as a state that doesn’t value education.

It has hurt how teachers feel about teaching. It has impaired young people’s desire to become teachers. It repels teachers from moving to or staying in our educational system. Over the course of the last 10 years, teachers applying for certification went from over 15,000 to teachers to less than 6,000 in 2021.

It has caused division in our communities when the authorizing district approves and funds the charter school. It is not in their interest to support or allow charter schools to expand. The authorizers impose enrollment caps that limit the number of students who can enroll in charter schools. It also blocks students’ enrollment in public charter schools. It is hard to believe that there is even a debate when all the funds come ultimately from taxpayers like you and me.

It is time to put all differences aside. It is time to see ourselves as a state that values high-quality education for all children and adults from kindergarten through post-high school studies, regardless of where they attend school.

We must declare that we value our students, parents, teachers, and leaders. We must train and empower our school boards to make appropriate decisions on the future of our schools and always maintain in sight that the parents, grandparents, and communities are paying for our schools.

Everyone’s voice is needed, matters, and will allow all schools to create opportunity, innovation, and unity for all children of Pennsylvania. Finally, we must recognize the positive effects school choice has on all schools and our economy.

The Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools will continue to be the catalyst for educational excellence through opportunity, innovation, and unity.  Also, please join us with millions of school choice supporters across the Nation during National School Choice Week by sharing your story on social media.

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PA Public Schools: Fewer Students But More Spending

Public school enrollment is dropping in Pennsylvania, but education spending is at an all-time high, according to a state watchdog group. And that trend appears likely to continue as Democrats, including Gov. Josh Shapiro, have signaled support for increased spending on education.

At the same time, the state awaits a decision in a landmark case that could transform how public schools are funded.

According to the Commonwealth Foundation, public school enrollment has dropped by about 120,000 students since 2000. And a recent report from the National Center for Education Statistics, first reported by Axios, showed the trend isn’t isolated to Pennsylvania.

Public schools across the country lost more than a million students between the fall of 2019 and the fall of 2020.

In the commonwealth, the Center found that the losses were particularly acute, with public school enrollment dipping about 5 percent over the same period, a downward spiral projected to continue through 2030.

Meanwhile, as enrollment declined, taxpayers were asked to spend more on public schools. As a result, Pennsylvania’s per-pupil costs soared to nearly $20,000 in the 2020-21 school year, the Commonwealth Foundation found, citing the most recent available data from the state Department of Education. That figure, ranking Pennsylvania eighth in the U.S., is about $4,000 more than the national average.

In some Delaware Valley communities, taxpayers are spending more than $30,000 per student.

Per-pupil figures for the 2021-22 school year will be available in April, a state DOE spokeswoman told DVJournal.

Most recent figures show per-pupil costs swelled in the Bensalem school district by nearly 25 percent since the 2011-12 school year, up from $16,975 to $20,921.

In the wealthier New Hope-Solesbury district, they jumped from $20,216 to $31,217 over the same period. The Philadelphia school district, by comparison, saw more modest increases, from $13,166 to $18,753, the data shows.

Representatives from the Pennsylvania State Education Association didn’t respond to a request for comment on school spending.

Why is it costing so much more to teach $100,000 fewer students? Nathan Benefield, vice president for the Commonwealth Foundation, pointed out that over the same period enrollments declined, the number of employees working at public schools rose by nearly 9 percent.

The state added about 20,000 employees over that period and saw a 40 percent growth among administrators.

Data previously reviewed by DVJournal showed the number of full and part-time teachers employed for the 2020-2021 school year increased to 123,461 from 119,790 in 2015-16.

Benefield juxtaposed those jumps with more students “increasingly looking for alternative options” to public schools.

“Instead of continuing to fund buildings and bureaucrats, Pennsylvania taxpayers should directly help students,” he said. “If students leave their assigned school for better educational opportunities, their portion of education funding should go with them.”

Across the country, U.S. school enrollment fell from 50.8 million students in 2019 to 49.4 million in 2020, while enrollment in private and charter schools rose, Axios reported. And the number of homeschooled students doubled to about 5 million.

Advocates for increasing taxpayer spending on shrinking classrooms argue that more money will improve educational outcomes. However, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test scores in Pennsylvania have been flat or falling for nearly a decade — a trend exacerbated by the failure of the remote education strategy used during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2019, 81 percent of Keystone State students scored at or above the basic benchmark. By 2021, that number had fallen to 76 percent.

So will school spending decline to match the ongoing trend of falling enrollment? Not likely. During last year’s campaign, Gov-elect Josh Shapiro pledged to spend more money on K-12 education in the future.

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Point: Education’s Future Depends on Parent Power

For another viewpoint see: Counterpoint: Too Much Parental Involvement Hurts Kids

If there’s one thing the last three years have taught American parents, it’s that they need to take control of their children’s education.

Despite massive infusions of additional federal cash after COVID-19 hit the country, on top of K-12 education spending tripling since 1970 to a record $751.7 billion per year, most U.S. school districts are unable to address the basic educational needs of our youth.

The recent National Assessment of Educational Progress reading and math tests confirmed this and did not surprise parents who’ve witnessed educational neglect firsthand. The results, released in October, showed that two-thirds or more of fourth- and eighth-grade students tested can neither read nor do math proficiently. Even Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, a friend of education unions and a defender of the traditional system, described the scores as “appalling.”

But rather than recommend a bold change, Cardona asked Congress for more money, without any accountability, I might add.

Contrast that to what really works for kids: education personalized to their needs, designed with learning in mind, and able to engage students actively. That’s real innovation, and its presence is a game-changer in students’ lives.

So is fostering “parent power,” providing parents with the right to choose what works best for their family and the information and resources to do it.

As the Center for Education Reform’s new 2022 Parent Power Index shows, however, this only exists robustly in fewer than a third of the states. Florida leads the pack, followed by Arizona, Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin, West Virginia and Minnesota. Overall, more than half of the states (28) — including California, Michigan and New York — earned grades of D and F. No wonder education achievement is so low, particularly for children with special needs and those who were being poorly served by the change-resistant education system even before the pandemic struck.

Parents are fighting for more power today, and more education innovators are stepping up to fill their needs.

This was apparent in the competition for the $1 million Yass Prize, awarded Dec. 14 to Arizona Autism Charter Schools, with millions more awarded to other exemplary organizations.

“I was just a mom,” said Diana Diaz-Harrison, founder of the Arizona schools. “As an autism mom, I don’t want my kid to be seen as disabled. I want him to be seen as a doer, intelligent, productive, and so these charter schools that we are starting across America will help our children be neurodiverse, be who they are and be fulfilling, productive citizens.”

Kenisha Skaggs tells a similar story about SOAR Academy, the micro-school and tutoring center she founded in rural Georgia: “Imagine being an eighth grader on a first-grade math and reading level … in the public school system. … That was Keanna’s story when she met us last year and attended our school.”

These are only two of the 2,700 education entrepreneurs from 49 states who entered this year’s Yass Prize competition. Many organizations were founded by parents, some by educators who value parents and understand that many children have unique needs.

In Phoenix, for example, Janelle Wood launched the Black Mothers Forums during the pandemic, a first-of-its-kind urban micro-school network that operates small group learning centers for Black moms and their children. Nearly 2,000 miles away, in Detroit, another Black mom, Bernita Bradley, started an organization called Engaged Detroit, which coaches Black moms on home-schooling their children, provides them with curriculum tools, and advocates on their behalf to make it easier.

Only some parents have the ability, energy, fortitude or resources to become  hands-on educators or educational entrepreneurs. They shouldn’t have to be heroes and fight the system to deliver what’s best.

We can no longer afford to wait as traditional public schools awash in cash deprive children of their right to a great education. It’s time for state leaders to follow the example of Florida and Arizona, support parents like Diana, Kenisha and Janelle, and provide them with the freedom, opportunities and resources to drive their children’s education.

McGARRIGLE: Why Voters Should Vote For Republicans

EDITOR’S NOTE: For another view, see “Valyo: Vote for Democrats to Preserve Democracy.”


This November, voters in Delaware County, and all across Pennsylvania and the United States of America, should choose the Republican candidates when they cast their vote in this year’s General Election. The Republican candidates are the only ones who have been consistently focused on the issues that are impacting our day-to-day lives; inflation, energy cost, crime, education, and restarting our economy. Additionally, many of these issues we are facing can be directly tied back to Democrat-championed policies and initiatives.

For example, the steadily-rising crime and murder rates we are seeing in Philadelphia are a direct result of Democratic officials, like District Attorney Larry Krasner, choosing to embrace criminals and turn their back on crime victims. We also saw many Democrats who hold local, state, or federal offices calling for policing to be “reimagined” and for the police to be defunded.

As a result of that, criminals now feel emboldened and empowered because they know there will be little-to-no consequences if caught. We have also begun to see the crime begin to spill over into Delaware County from the city of Philadelphia, something that Republicans have warned about for years.

If you’ve been to the grocery store lately, you’ve probably noticed you are paying more for fewer items. Inflation is hitting everyone’s wallets, and without electing fiscally-responsible Republican candidates inflation will only continue to grow worse. The Democrat’s belief that “if we spend more money, inflation will go away,” has been proven wrong time and again. Once again, inflation has not gone away, and without a change in how we address the problem, it will only continue to get worse.

The increased cost of gasoline and other energy sources can be directly tied to the Democrats’ unwavering war on energy. Democrats believe that this is a zero-sum game: you can either have a clean and healthy environment, or you can have a society that depends on fossil fuels. Republicans on the other hand understand that we can use fossil fuels while also protecting our environment, with the use of sensible regulations and incentives for using alternative energy, not burdensome regulations and fees for using fossil fuels.

Republicans are also committed to ensuring that every child gets a quality education, and most importantly, that they have the choice to attend a school that best suits them. Education is not a “one size fits all” issue, which was made even clearer by the COVID-19 pandemic. Our children are still feeling the negative educational, developmental, and social impacts of the lockdowns, and numerous studies have been released detailing the true impact of these closures.

The issues at stake in this year’s election are too important for voters to stay home. If you are tired of paying high prices for gas and food, feeling unsafe in your community, and being concerned about whether your child is getting a quality education, then I implore you to find out about the Republican candidates in your area and to get out and vote for them.

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New Children First Report Paints Mixed Picture of Delco Kids’ Condition

It took Delaware County Council Chairwoman Monica Taylor Ph.D. a year to find childcare for her nearly 2-year-old-daughter.

“Last year we were on a waiting list for quite a while and she got in,” said Taylor. “We were going to start in September…And they had to close the baby room and the young toddler room because they did not have enough staff. And our daycare was not able to re-open that room. She did not get back into daycare until the end of May of this year.

“During that time we were on several other waiting lists and we were not able to get into any other daycare center,” said Taylor. She and her husband cobbled together childcare, relying on her mother, mother-in-law, other family members, and friends.

The problem is a dire shortage of childcare workers, according to Donna Cooper, Children First executive director, discussing the child advocacy organization’s new report about how Delaware County’s 123,94 children fared during the COVID-19 epidemic and its aftermath. There are 52 fewer childcare programs and 540 fewer staff members than before the pandemic.

Childcare workers typically make 23 percent less money than people employed in stores, such as Wawa, she said. And the lack of childcare is a factor keeping women from returning to the workforce.

The report found that while 1,900 adults succumbed to COVID in the county, no children there died of COVID. And many families took advantage of the federal child tax credit and other government funds so that more than 3,000 children were no longer in poverty. Some 29,000 Delaware County families received over $50 million because of the child tax credit.

However, many students fell behind or further behind in school, more are suffering from mental health issues such as suicide and anxiety, and fewer children are vaccinated against communicable diseases.

”Pennsylvania’s statewide Safe2Say hotline fielded more suicide-related calls from students across the state during COVID, yet the number of these calls from youth in Delaware County jumped by 43 percent,” the report said.

“The children faced extraordinary anxiety,” Cooper explained. The closure of the Crozer-Chester Health System left a big hole in mental health services, she said, “so entirely new networks have to be built in the county. Estimates are that 14,000 teenagers in Delaware County still are suffering from some remnants of the stress, the anxiety, and the isolation and depression that COVID imposed on their lives.”

Students in some school districts fared better than others, the report said. But some 38 percent of the kids were not testing at grade level before the pandemic.

“The higher a school district’s poverty level is, the more the kids were behind,” Cooper said. “As your poverty rate goes up your assessment score goes down. Not because the children aren’t smart enough. But they are the same school districts that have the least amount to spend per child, so they have swollen class sizes, they have less instructional support…We have a gap of $150,000 per classroom between Radnor and Upper Darby or between Radnor and William Penn.”

Schools that have the greatest risk of children falling behind are the schools that were closed the longest, she said.

“They were also the schools that had the least resources,” Cooper said.

Critics of the extended closed-classroom policies say these numbers add to the evidence that the approach taken by many public schools in Pennsylvania and across the U.S. was flawed. A report released earlier this year by the left-leaning Brookings Institute found nationwide “test-score gaps between students in low-poverty and high-poverty elementary schools grew by approximately 20 percent in math and 15 percent in reading primarily during the 2020-21 school year. Further, achievement tended to drop more between fall 2020 and 2021 than between fall 2019 and 2020, indicating that disruptions to learning have continued to negatively impact students well past the initial hits following the spring 2020 school closures.”

The Delaware County report recommends the county prepare for a future public health emergency by having a person whose job is to think about kids and to create a manual of lessons learned from the COVID pandemic. County districts received substantial federal support in pandemic funding and the state also put $1.1 billion toward education this year, according to Cooper. But they need to do more to make sure the kids caught up.

To make sure there is not a spike in poverty, the Senate needs to reapprove the child tax credit, she said.

Upper Darby High School student Tanveer Kaur said many of her friends had trouble with mental health problems. She joined a support and affinity group at her school and also volunteers as an assistant teacher at one of the elementary schools.

Those students have “missed out on crucial learning blocks that build up,” Kaur said. “And that missing of crucial education has really impacted them.”

“Because class sizes are so big even at the elementary level, it’s hard to have that one-on-one time,” Kaur said, even with two adults and a teenager in the classroom.

Seda Gok, a middle school counselor in the William Penn School District, said she supported students online during the pandemic. They felt isolated, had trouble with the virtual curriculum, and were falling behind, leading to anxiety. Some students were helping younger siblings with their schoolwork. And they worried about their parents getting sick.

“Now we’re in our first semi-normal school year…They’re so behind now. They’re just now starting to play catch-up. There was that anxiety of (taking the) PSSAs (standardized tests) that was a big concern, too.”

She said it was hard for them to learn math in virtual learning.

The students need access to more mental health support staff, she said. She is responsible for 355 8th grade students “so it’s really hard to give each student that time.”

There are also “huge waiting lists” to see an outside therapist.

While William Penn has 25 to 30 students in a class, for kids to need remedial help, class sizes should be no more than 17 to 30 percent, said Cooper.


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