As Labor Day creeps upon us and the days slowly grow shorter, there is an annual tradition that is marked by the return of school busses and the sounds of excited children ready to embark on another educational adventure – the beginning of a new school year.
Ensuring each child has an opportunity to experience a high quality education is one of America’s best ideas, and since the founding of our Commonwealth, we have been striving to create an educational system that centers on excellence.
To be sure, excellence in education is about more than just best practices, new methods, or the latest research. We cannot – and should not – forget that excellence in education is about America’s next great generation.
It is about preparing our young people for a world of unprecedented challenges, both at home and abroad. It is about opportunity, our economy, and the ability of America to remain the most powerful and successful nation on earth, so that we may be a beacon of hope and freedom for all people.
And it is also about keeping a solemn promise that began in the mid-1600s in the Massachusetts Bay Colony when the earliest settlers decided that every town of fifty families should have an elementary school and that every town of 100 families should have a Latin school.
Like those early settlers, the people of Pennsylvania equally believed education was a foundational component to our people and state.
Recognizing that “opportunity for all” is only possible through a strong school system, the drafters of the Pennsylvania Constitution included a powerful mandate requiring the state to provide a “thorough and efficient” public school system.
Since then, we have worked to advance an educational system that promotes both thoroughness and efficiency, two undefined standards which matter greatly.
The “thoroughness” that our Constitution outlines suggests that our schools should provide students with an opportunity to experience earned success by giving them a chance to learn and have a full command or mastery of subjects, art, talents, or other educational experiences.
It means that we place value not just on what is offered to students, but in how successful we are in helping them to achieve goals. By definition, “thorough” means that we are executing educational program without, “negligence or omissions.” Simply put, we do our best to help our young people succeed in learning.
The “efficiency” standard relates to how we achieve our educational goals. It means we employ the best practices and institute systems of transparency and accountability. Efficiency requires that we are able to accomplish the task of educating young people with the least waste of time and effort and that we are competent in the performance of teaching.
To me, the efficiency standard also mandates that we do not waste the scarce taxpayer resources that pay for our schools.
Today, both at the state and local levels, the monetary contributions that citizens make to public education is the highest it has ever been, and we owe it to those that are financially supporting our schools to be good and honest stewards of those resources to the benefit of the children those dollars are intended to serve.
As a state lawmaker, I have an obligation to be faithful to the constitutional requirements of creating a “thorough and efficient system of public education.”
In support of that effort, I am proud that the General Assembly passed – and Governor Wolf signed into law – two bills that I introduced on behalf of schools in Lancaster County.
One proposal would allow school districts to partner with each other to perform routine administrative functions in order to cut costs and improve educational opportunities for students and educators.
The plan will allow school districts to negotiate an agreement to share administrative personnel, including superintendents, business administrators, office personnel and management, as well as certain services with support and technical assistance from the Department of Education.
The other proposal included the creation of a program I introduced along with Rep. Mindy Fee to establish hybrid learning grants that blend digital resources with traditional classroom instruction. These technology driven programs are transforming our classrooms and providing a customized learning experience for children.
I am proud to be a champion for a high quality educational system that advances the vision of Pennsylvania’s founders.
We are truly blessed in Lancaster County to have terrific schools, top-notch administrators and talented and dedicated teachers. We are also gifted with caring parents and children ready to experience the joy of learning.
In the end, while there is a real debate about what constitutes a thorough and efficient system of public education, one thing is undeniable – education is an essential element of equal citizenship, and without an adequate education, a person’s ability to be meaningfully employed or successfully navigate an ever-complex society is greatly diminished.
I wish everyone a safe, enjoyable and prosperous new school year.