MANY public schools are doing a good job.
So, to Betsy DeVos, President-elect Donald Trump’s choice for education secretary, we’d say this: If it’s not broken, don’t fix it (the word “ain’t” generally appears in that saying, but this is an editorial about education so we cleaned up the grammar in case teachers are reading).
It’s true that some public school systems are not serving students as they should.
But just as you shouldn’t take the medicine prescribed for someone else, a successful school shouldn’t be subjected to the policy prescriptions meant to cure underperforming schools. And the people doing the prescribing should be familiar with the patients in need of help.
Having exhausted that metaphor, we’ll put it plainly: Except for some civil rights issues that may require federal intervention, education is best left to the states. And even better, to local school boards, whose members are far more accountable to their constituents than any D.C. bureaucrats and policymakers ever would be.
Is education in Pennsylvania perfect? Of course not.
Our charter school law doesn’t require nearly enough oversight of charter schools, as state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale has pointed out.
We have far too many school districts: a whopping 500 of them.
And for too many years, Pennsylvania — unlike most other states — didn’t have a formula for the fair funding of schools.
That, at least, has changed.
In 2014, Pennsylvania’s bipartisan Basic Education Funding Commission was formed; it included state Sen. (soon-to-be Congressman) Lloyd Smucker and state Rep. Mike Sturla, along with state Education Secretary Pedro Rivera, former superintendent of the School District of Lancaster.
The commission held 15 hearings over 11 months, and the commission members came to know the complexities and challenges of the state’s school districts because they heard from superintendents, school board presidents, business leaders, nonprofit organizations and parents.
No one in Washington could even begin to grasp the full picture of education in this commonwealth.
Or, for that matter, education in Massachusetts. Or California. Or Kentucky. Or North Dakota.
The fair funding formula is now law in Pennsylvania. The formula is intended to narrow the gap between what poor and wealthy school districts spend per student in the commonwealth. That gap — $11,000-$24,000 per student — is the widest of any state in the country.
Hopefully, if it’s fully funded by the state, the formula does its job, and some of the state’s underperforming schools improve.
Many of those districts have higher percentages of students from low-income families, so they also rely on Title I funding from the federal government. We’re hopeful that money won’t be diverted away from public schools, even as they finally get state money in a fairer and more predictable way.
We’re also hopeful that Trump’s education secretary will encourage a limited federal role in education policy.
Of course, the new education secretary will oversee implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act, the federal law passed last year to replace No Child Left Behind.
Two things we’d note about the new law: It passed in Congress with strong bipartisan support. And it grants states discretion in evaluating schools and teachers. Handing that power back to the states was a great thing.
We hope, where education is concerned, that it’s a trend that continues.
LNP newspaper | AP