Today kicks off an American Education Week like no other. Here in Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf closed schools on March 13—and thousands of children haven’t set foot in a classroom since then. The successes of cyber and homeschooled students show you don’t need to be in a classroom to learn. But many schools have struggled to implement remote learning plans, and children have suffered.
Fortunately, there is a solution working its way through the Pennsylvania legislature. Back on Track education scholarship accounts would provide low-income families with $1,000 per student to help deal with education expenses that are a fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic. Eligible expenses include counseling, tutoring, tuition, computers, and services for students with special needs.
Prime sponsors Rep. Clint Owlett and Sen. Judy Ward introduced Back on Track over the summer because they saw the harms to students from learning losses and other impacts of the school closures. Unfortunately, due in part to opposition from the “education establishment,” the bill stalled. While public schools, colleges, and daycares have all received help dealing with the effects of Covid-19, families trying to keep their kids’ education on track have not.
Philadelphia mom Cierra Freeman traveled to Harrisburg last month to participate in a Back on Track press conference hosted by the Commonwealth Foundation. Cierra pointed out that Back on Track could lessen the equity impacts of school closures, which have been hardest on lower income families. Noting that families received direct financial stimulus in response to Covid-19, Cierra asked, “What about an education stimulus for our children?”
Najimah Roberson from Harrisburg spoke at the press conference about her three children and their varied circumstances—one child needs a specialized laptop due to a disability, another needs educational support due to a summer program being cancelled, and her youngest also has special needs. “Children who were struggling with their education before Covid are definitely having more problems now,” Najimah shared. “These are things that everyone in the state is going through. Back on Track is something we need; it’s imperative.”
While we’re running out of time, it’s not too late to pass this crucial support for families. Lawmakers are returning to Harrisburg for a special post-election session, and they have yet to allocate the $1.3 billion remaining from the federal CARES Act. Education stimulus for families through Back on Track should be high on their list.
Whether kids are in a classroom or at home, education must continue. Back on Track grants are designed to help children get the specific help they need, which is key to helping them recover from these disruptions. Let’s celebrate American Education Week by helping Pennsylvania kids get educational support.