HARRISBURG – Education was a big part of this year’s state budget in Pennsylvania, especially considering the bushels of cash the state received from the federal stimulus money.
Representative Jesse Topper joined Pat Ryan and Michele Jansen recently on the local-live morning radio show, First News (6am-9am on 103.7FM), to talk education.
Topper said, “20% of the money coming in from the federal government designated to school districts was set aside for quote learning loss, which is something that I’ve been questioning at every education hearing that we have had since really COVID started in terms of trying to determine where our kids are at and how we catch them up through something called accelerated learning. The idea that we’re going to just have a couple summer school classes and these kids are going to be okay is just not practical. It has to be something that is ongoing in our current curriculum and that’s what this extra 20% is designed to do.”
Putting extra federal money into schools can be tricky because the funding has a time limit.
Topper explained, “In other words, it’s only around for two years. What happens after those two years? Well they go away. Any staff that you hire with that money goes away and so I wanted to put it in several things in legislation one of them being any programs started with this money ended when the money ended so there was no thought of well we’re just going to continue on ad infinitum. If you want to continue doing something like it, then you can build that into your own budget, but anything with these dollars has a specific time frame and it only goes as long as the dollar goes.”
They also wanted accelerated learning to take place in person. District personnel would be first in line to offer it so that there wouldn’t be a need to look to outside groups to provide it, which would mean additional money.
Topper said, “I thought there were some important concepts that we had with that legislation and we had it in the education code and then at the last minute it had to be pulled out due to other things that were attempted to being put into it that were also very damaging. Sometimes what we have to do in Harrisburg is weigh our options. Sometimes the things that don’t get done, the things that we stop that people never even see, could have been far more damaging than anything that was implemented.”
Jansen asked, “So, are you saying this was kind of a compromise removal because there was other things that that’s the only way that they were going to be removed?
Topper answered, “That’s correct.”
Jansen said, “Oh, very interesting. I just worry. When I see that money is supposed to be used for the social and emotional issues of children. That puts my red flags up because we know some of that is joined into this idea of Critical Race Theory. Which I know everybody is trying to make into a political football, but there’s real concerns that real people like myself like other parent have that there could be damage being done by this. By the way there is legislation now moving for Pennsylvania to be one of the states that says – and this is not against teaching the real history of slavery or anything like that – this is against putting ideology in the classroom. Where do you stand on that?”
Topper said, “I’m fully supportive of it. To me, that’s where this has to start. I’ve always said local school districts are in charge of their local curriculum. The more light that we shine on this, I think I’ve mentioned before we’ve had several districts here in my district that have come out and said we’re not doing it. That’s the best way to do it. Try and educate people as to what it actually is. The language that we use is important but it doesn’t always tell the full story. We hear something like equity and all of a sudden some of our red flags in our minds go up not because we’re against equity, but what does that actually mean? Are we actually talking about equity or equality or are we talking about placing one group ahead of another? We always have to look at what our words are and what they actually mean in that context. I think that one of the things that this pandemic has done, all of a sudden people are paying a lot more attention to their kids’ education and curriculum because they’ve been in the room with them doing it. So if there is a silver lining, that’s it. I think the more that parents are involved and caretakers and grandparents and guardians are involved in children’s education, then the better off we’re going to be.”
Ryan added, “I said this years ago. I heard it two or three days ago from Tucker Carlson. Cameras in the classrooms is something that would be great to protect a teacher from monsters that are getting out of control. Pull the parent in and say here look at little Johnny, look at little Susy. Do something about it before we suspend them and expel them. And we also get a really firm idea of what’s happening with these teachers and what they’re spewing. I’m so sick and tired of the idea that we can’t get cameras in the classroom. We can put it in doggy daycares. We can put it in kids’ daycares, but how we can’t put it in front of parents right now is beyond me.”
Topper said, “But that’s the thing. Over the past year and a half, every classroom has had a camera because it’s been people’s living room and basements and you’re actually seeing what is being taught. Let’s be honest guys, everybody can blame schools, teachers all they want but at the end of the day parents have not been engaged in their kids’ education for years. I think that’s starting to change. That’s the only thing that’s really going to change the dynamic of public education – is when the people who actually vote with their feet so to speak stand up and say this is what we want.”
Ryan pointed out, “But when you get school boards that don’t want to allow you to speak or you get an activist board that shuts meetings down and has parents arrested, honestly, who’s running the show?”
Topper said, “Remember school board directors don’t get placed there by aliens. They’re voted in. People have the opportunity to put people in that they want. You saw more turnover in school board races. People are taking note of elections. It’s a different ballgame now. It takes time.”