Parents will be in a tough spot if schools don’t open. Back on Track ESAs can help.

Gov. Wolf says he is willing to “pull the plug” on school re-openings if the state continues to see an increase in COVID-19 cases. It’s yet another ambiguous announcement from the governor that puts working parents in an especially tough spot.

For those who can work from home, it adds the pressure of balancing work and home teaching. For those whose jobs cannot be done remotely, it poses an impossible choice between making a living and taking care of their children. Costly childcare is not an option for everybody, and even if it were, approximately 165 childcare centers in Pennsylvania have shuttered during the pandemic.

For parents in Pennsylvania’s largest district, the impossible choice between work and childcare is a confirmed reality. The Philadelphia School District has announced that it will reopen school buildings just two days a week, with virtual instruction the other three days. Parents can also choose a fully virtual option.

But many parents do not have the luxury of virtual schooling. Gretchen Dahlkemper’s children previously attended Nebinger Elementary in South Philadelphia. But with Dahlkemper and her ex-husband working full time to support their three children, their rising sixth, fourth, and second graders don’t receive the attention they need at home. To combat this issue, Dahlkemper is sending her children to Miami to live with relatives and pursue an education there.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

The governor and lawmakers could fund “back on track” education scholarships to help parents afford a semester of private school, tutoring, or other supports to help their kids catch up academically AND enable parents to go back to work.

Last week, Sen. Judy Ward and Rep. Clint Owlett introduced “Back on Track” companion legislation in the House and Senate. The COVID-19 recovery proposal is the first of its kind in the nation.

Back on track legislation would initially apply to families who qualify for free and reduced lunch programs, or a household income of $40,182 for a family of three. Under the $500 million cap, not all eligible children will receive help, but those who apply first will receive $1,000 in a restricted-use account to use on approved purchases like tuition, curriculum, tutoring, and online classes. Funds for the Education Scholarship Accounts (ESAs) will come from Pennsylvania’s $1.3 billion unspent Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

The flexibility of “back on track” scholarships is imperative as parents are pursuing innovative ways to get kids the support they need. Families in Lower Merion school district outside of Philadelphia are looking to create groups of families to pitch in to hire a teacher to tutor their kids.

Schools continue to release reopening plans, but uncertainty remains. Parents and students deserve direct support.

Contact your lawmaker now.