Penn Live: Parents need options in education to help their children succeed | Opinion

By Sharon Sedlar, Penn Live, November 15,2023

The debate surrounding K-12 education continues between lawmakers, politicians, and school boards on the national stage, but the fact remains that parents know best when it comes to choosing an education that best suits their child and allows them to excel. However, too often, lack of resources can serve as a barrier to empowering parents to choose the best school for their child’s unique needs.

School choice is a solution that I know personally. As a mother to six daughters, my children attended a private elementary school and later switched to district school because it provided a better learning environment. My first two daughters greatly benefited and graduated from district education, but over the years, the district changed. When it was time for my youngest daughter to attend as a 2nd grader, it became clear that district education would not be able to meet her needs.

My daughter’s spark– her smart, bright, and quick-witted disposition– was quickly dampened that school year – within weeks of the start. Instead of support to build on her academic success, she was met with a ruptured learning environment where her teacher did not address her needs. After several requests for a classroom transfer were denied by the school, we tried a Student Accommodation Plan (SAP), but were met with further problems from an educational institution that seemed more inclined to point fingers and protect the teacher’s reputation than to help my daughter with the tools and resources she needed to feel confident in the classroom.

The current education system fails children every single day. The Nation’s Report Card proves that these problems are widespread, and families desperately need options. Regardless of the reason for which we find our nation’s K-12 education system in its current predicament, education choice for the children of today and tomorrow is a necessary pursuit we must all undertake.

While my child was apologizing for failing – we were the ones who miserably failed her.

District schools are a great fit for many children, but one size does not fit all. I enrolled my daughter in a cyber charter school, an option available to Pennsylvania families and one that allows her to continue to improve to today. We were empowered to choose a school that provided the safety, security and learning environment my child needed to excel.

Far too many children, however, both in Pennsylvania and nationwide, need something different – whether public, private, or home-based – and cannot access it because of family income or residential assignment

Studies of existing programs show overwhelmingly that parents and families are satisfied, outcomes are good, and public district schools are not harmed. Especially as the country continues to strive to recover from generational learning loss after the COVID-19 pandemic, there is no excuse not to empower every family with the options necessary to make the choices that will change their children’s lives – and maybe even save them like my daughter was saved.

While Pennsylvania does have K-12 scholarship tax credit programs, out of 139,000 applications only 63,000 K-12 scholarships were awarded an average scholarship of $2,534 in the 2021-21 school year. Over 76,000 children were denied due to arbitrary program caps.

That is why passing programs on a federal level, like the Educational Choice for Children Act (ECCA), will be a critical step toward that child-centered goal. Scholarships would be funded with private donations, not federal money, and individual and business donors receive a tax credit on their federal income tax liability. Students could use scholarships for tuition, tutoring to address learning loss, special needs serrvices, or education technology.

We are grateful to U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.) for being an original co-sponsor, and to the more than 120 House members and two dozen Senate members who have co-sponsored the bill.

It is time to put power and increased resources into parents’ hands to serve each unique student’s needs most appropriately, particularly given the challenges today’s students face. Whether continually growing achievement gaps, increased student distress, or the lasting effects of the pandemic, students need immediate options.

Read the full op-ed by Sharon Sedlar via the Penn Live  here.