Cash Alone Won’t Teach Our Kids to Read

Sen. Ryan Aument (R-36)

Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro’s proposed 2024-25 state budget plan is essentially a big wish list with an even bigger price tag.

His grandiose budget proposal includes spending an additional $1.5 billion on K-12 education. Because almost everyone agrees it’s important to properly educate future generations, his proposal may sound nice initially.

However, we can’t pay for it without tax increases, and it ignores the reality many Pennsylvanians face every day to make ends meet as the prices of everyday purchases like groceries continue to rise.

Spending like that operates on the premise that throwing cash at kids will automatically better position them for success throughout their lives. That’s simply not the case and acting like it is does a disservice to Pennsylvania’s children.

Equity in education funding is not always the same as equality in educational opportunity, nor does it necessarily correlate to student academic achievement.

That’s why I was disappointed by the Democratic majority on the Basic Education Funding Commission’s recommendations. Instead of talking about how to invest taxpayer dollars strategically to more effectively prepare students, the conversation focused almost exclusively on funding amounts. That method hasn’t been working.

Sadly, almost half of fourth graders across the commonwealth are reading below grade level. This is absolutely unacceptable. Studies show childhood reading difficulties can produce long-term effects and dramatically impact a person’s chance of success.

One in five American adults struggle to read basic sentences. For these individuals, tasks such as reading the mail, completing tax forms, or even engaging in civic duties can be nearly impossible.

Pennsylvanians of all ages deserve better, and literacy is a great equalizer. Literacy cannot be a skill that is reserved for wealthy families and those who can afford private tutoring; it must be something public schools deliver to all students, regardless of their demographic or socioeconomic status.

To make that happen, I drafted legislation the Senate Education Committee recently passed. My bill would implement an evidence-based program to improve literacy with a three-stage approach.

First, we will bolster literacy instruction with evidence-based reading curricula. Second, through universal screening, we will outline a process to identify struggling readers in the first 30 days of school. Third, screening data will help to design and implement intervention plans to prevent children from falling behind. These steps will put all children on the path to reading proficiently by third grade.

This smart investment will actually improve student outcomes instead of simply writing a check and then washing our hands of the problem. Again, money is not the issue and money alone will not be the solution, either.

Without systematically changing the way we educate our children, this investment in education will mean nothing.

Imagine if we could throw out the 1949 PA School Code and create a new education system that better aligns with today’s challenges such as cell phone use in schools, the role of technology in the classroom, and digital literacy.

For Pennsylvania students to gain meaningful employment after graduation, we need a long-term plan to align our education system with job demands.

The Pennsylvania Commission on Education & Economic Competitiveness, born of legislation I sponsored, will make recommendations on how Pennsylvania’s education system can better meet the demands of today and tomorrow’s job market.

So let’s appropriate funding for K-12 schools, but let’s not do so without insisting upon systematic redesign that will refocus the entire system on students and their academic success.

I invite you to participate in the work of the Commission on Education and Economic Competitiveness. You can stay informed and share your ideas at

Funding an antiquated education system is a fool’s errand, and students and taxpayers deserve better.

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