Science and ‘New School’ Models Dictate Better Course for Philly Students

A scene from a primary school located in Atlanta, Georgia. (The Public Health Image Library from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

A scene from a primary school located in Atlanta, Georgia. (The Public Health Image Library from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Time is truly wasting, as the Isley Brothers sang. The growing tension between teachers and parents hit a breaking point this week as, in spite of overwhelming scientific evidence supporting full or at least substantial opening of schools – some states and cities are still refusing to open preschools. Just 9,000 of Philadelphia’s public school children are returning to the classroom for a limited two days and the vast majority of the city’s students remain in ineffective remote learning programs.

Reports confirm that economically disadvantaged students are suffering the most. U.S. Secretary of Education-designee Miguel Cardona told the Senate this week that Covid has only “exacerbated [the] inequities in our educational system.” And while most children now have a laptop or tablet and internet access and should continue to have those long after COVID is a distant memory, they still need physically to be in a learning environment.

Wealthier families have been able to form their own learning pods, pay for private school or tutors to make up lost time while less-advantaged families who are just as dedicated to their kids have no resources. Yet, even after Pennsylvania’s public schools received $1.4 billion of CARES funds, school districts were sitting on a whopping $4.6 billion in reserve funds. And according to a report by the left-leaning Keystone Research Center, “ the poorest quartile of school districts — based on enrollment — received $36 million of the $175 million allocated for schools in the fall, less than each of the three other quartiles.” Families without any substantive in-person education today do not need more money to flow to largely empty buildings but have their own solutions funded.

Public funds are supporting the work of the Black Mothers Forum in Arizona in partnering with Prenda and Sequoia Choice Arizona Distance Learning to open micro-schools in South Phoenix. The Urban League of Central Florida is forming parent pods for lower-income families who do not have access to quality schools with funds from the state’s scholarship programs.

Neither these new learning opportunities nor the excess capacity in the city’s well-regarded Catholic schools is available to the majority of Philadelphians, despite their success in educating. Just ask Angelique, whose daughter Lillian attends St. Martin de Porres School through the city’s Children’s Scholarship Fund (CSF). “My daughter loves her school, the teachers, and even her peers. After dealing with lots of bullying at her previous schools, this school is a great change and a great fit.”

But neither the CSF nor Pennsylvania’s tax credit scholarship programs are enough. Nor should they be, when millions in public funds are available and models exist from states that are freeing up funds for family-directed solutions. New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu sent $1.5 million in federal CARES Act to organizations that give scholarships for private, religious, and home-based programs. Georgia, Kansas, and Missouri are considering “education savings accounts” for all students.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf could follow suit and help deliver even a portion of the more than $500 million in federal funding the state received to parents who need it the most. That’s at the heart of a proposal pending in Harrisburg that would deploy unspent federal CARES Act funding to provide education savings accounts to low-income parents who could spend up to $1,000 on anything from tutoring, to computers to joining a micro-school. There’s also a move afoot to increase the amount of funds available to scholarships for poor children, like Lilian.

Soon-to-be Secretary Cardona put it best: “Inequities will endure unless tackled by this country head-on. We must forge opportunity out of this crisis…remove silos in education, sharing our breakthroughs and success throughout our country and boldly address educational inequities head-on.”

Sounds like “smiles in the making,” if parents fight the powers that be.

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