Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Tom Corbett's Missed Opportunity

After his election as Governor, I wrote a post entitled “Tom Corbett’s Incredible Opportunity”.

The election cycle in 2010 had been full of partisan rhetoric with labels like conservative, liberal and the relatively new “tea-bagger” being hurled at opponents with great disdain. Tom Corbett had pledged a balanced budget, and with less funding coming into our communities from Harrisburg, the big question was “What will these new political and economic realities mean to local communities?” While a balanced budget presented a tremendous challenge, it also afforded Governor Corbett an incredible opportunity to identify the core mission of state government and perhaps redefine the state’s roles. Local and county governments and school districts were put on notice and prepared for drastic reductions in funding. Last year school boards and administrations throughout the County and Commonwealth scrambled to identify where to cut their budgets.

Tom Corbett’s incredible opportunity turned out to be an opportunity lost. Rather than bringing his leadership to the State’s troubled educational system by engaging local community leaders, school districts and families, a year later we find ourselves in the same situation…. Projected budget deficits with few places to cut and in a very rough economy that has seen many residents lose all or part of their income, little stomach in many communities for any tax increase.

Successful education, broadly defined as the preparation of our children to compete in the world, is dependent on three systems: Family, Community, and School. A child needs at least one of the systems to be working well if he or she is to have any chance to succeed. With one of the systems functioning, the other two could be overcome. If a school system does its job well, educators could overcome family strife, and could overcome a poor community, and get their students prepared. But schools are only part of the educational process. Family and community have equally important roles in education, and a student coming from a great family support structure, can live in a poor community and go to a poor school, and still have a chance to compete. Ideally our children have strengths in all three systems, but the reality is all three are being strained with some near the breaking point. Schools are feeling financial constraints, as are families, especially single-parent households. Many communities haven’t quite figured out what their role in education is. Success in education requires getting all relevant stakeholders working from the same game plan, and aligning their efforts within a common framework.

We need leaders to step forward and engage ALL of the community’s stakeholders who can hammer out a long-term plan for public education. Our children’s future depends on it.

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