More from the Senate Education Committee Hearing

When schools closed last spring—and with many still not fully open—parents across Pennsylvania have seen their children lose ground while having to pick up the additional costs of at-home education. That’s why we’ve worked with Sen. Judy Ward and Rep. Clint Owlett to introduce legislation to get students back on track.

On Monday, the Senate Education Committee held a hearing on Back on Track ESAs, with testimony from opponents (PSEA and other educational establishment groups) and proponents (our team, parents, and other school choice advocacy groups) of the bill.

The opponents of the bill all conceded there is a serious crisis in education right now. In fact, one principal said the number of parents telling him they’re exploring other education options is “mushrooming.”

Sadly, though, these groups aren’t working for the best interest of kids. The president of the PSEA made that clear when he said they’ve been “laser focused” on the needs of their members.

As former AFT president Al Shanker reportedly said decades ago, “When schoolchildren start paying union dues, that's when I'll start representing the interests of schoolchildren.”

Their solution? More money into a broken system. A government task force. Keep the money out of the hands of parents—with the dual claims that parents don’t know how to spend money, and giving $1,000 to families will mean the literal extinction of public schools.

In fact, the Democrat minority chair of the committee, Sen. Andy Dinniman, had to tell these groups to “just relax” and be open to solutions that are for the best of students.

Better still, the arguments of the government education complex were EVISCERATED by the pro-kid panelists.

Our own Colleen Hroncich testified first and did an incredible job explaining why this program is so critical to parents—and the future of our state. Later in the hearing, after proclaiming how much he appreciated Commonwealth Foundation, Sen. Dinniman asked a question and then added, “Let’s start with Colleen because I’ve read her work.”

That may seem minor, but it speaks to the bipartisan respect and stature we’ve earned, especially over the last few years. In fact, I can remember when a former Speaker of the House and former Senate Majority Leader banned us from testifying in committee hearings years ago.

One of my favorite parts of the hearing was when Sen. Lindsey Williams, a Democrat from the Pittsburgh area, questioned whether there was enough time for parents to apply for these funds this fall. 

Colleen told her that if the previous panelists—the unions and superintendents and principals fighting this bill—would stop wasting everyone’s time opposing the bill and instead educating their families on how to get the money there’d be no concerns about getting it to families in need quickly.

Also testifying was Keisha Jordan, executive director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund of Philadelphia and the mother of a child with a learning difference. Keisha took umbrage with a condescending comment from a school principal that qualifying families would have trouble applying for these funds. “Low-income parents are perfectly capable of completing an application process for this or any other program,” she told the committee.

Parent Natalie Wallace of Norristown also testified, explaining how the money would help her kids and so many families like hers. Her son is blind, one daughter is in online school, and another is in Catholic school. A public school substitute teacher, Natalie explained she still struggles to meet her kids’ educational needs. “This is the solution and we’re running out of time,” she implored.

I walked away from the hearing fired up and excited about our prospects. Shortly after the hearing one of the committee members, Sen. Ryan Aument, announced Back on Track specifically as one of the bills he supports for Pennsylvania’s recovery. And we got much more positive feedback from members and incredible news coverage from across the state, including:

This is a unique and historic bill, which would serve more students than any other school choice program in America.  The benefits are clear and the opponents are powerful, but we know we can prevail and bring more educational opportunity to PA kids.

Let’s empower parents and help all students get back on track!!