August 3, 2022

Pennsylvania Legislature Should Throw Lifeline To Low-Income Students In Failing School Districts | Opinion

By Dr. Laurie Todd-Smith

For many families with at-risk children stuck in underperforming schools, school choice offers what may be the only path to a high-quality education. Fortunately for Pennsylvania families, the state legislature introduced House Bill (HB) 2169 amending the Public-School Code of 1949 to establish a Lifeline scholarship program.

Lifeline scholarships help children in the bottom 15% of high-performing school districts in the state. As a result, low-income students trapped in underperforming schools will have access to better educational opportunities and a real chance for a prosperous future.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, students have suffered greatly, from school closures to lack of access to academic programs. Distance learning, which many have been forced to resort to, has left students on the sidelines. In Pennsylvania, student scores on standardized tests dropped significantly in all subjects. For example, 78% of eighth graders are not proficient in math and 47% are not proficient in language arts.

Eighty percent of students attending the poorest 15% of district public schools in Pennsylvania are students of color and low-income children. Additionally, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research, minority students have suffered the most during the pandemic. As a result, neighboring districts have dramatically different levels of academic achievement. These huge achievement gaps must be closed by empowering families to make the best decision for their children. As we emerge from the pandemic, we must protect the future of our communities, our children and their path to prosperity.

Students eligible for a Lifeline Scholarship include, but are not limited to, foster children or children with a parent or legal guardian on full-time active duty in the United States Armed Forces.

Minority students in the bottom 15% of high-performing school districts will also have access to these funds. Students can use the funds to cover tuition, fees and uniforms, tutoring, special education or therapies for students with disabilities, and costs associated with assessing and identifying needs specials. As a result, HB 2169 would provide a pathway to success for many students and families.

We have the ability, but even more, the responsibility as a community to showcase whatever is available to our most valuable assets. Now is the time for Pennsylvania lawmakers to expedite the passage of HB 2169 to establish the Lifeline scholarship program. Children are our future – let’s give them every opportunity to succeed by empowering their parents.

Laurie Todd-Smith, Ph.D., is director of the Center for Education Opportunity at America First Policy Institute. She has 30 years of teaching experience.