Home > About > News and Events > Op-Eds > Draw up best education plan, fund it
Draw up best education plan, fund it

by Christopher M. Thomforde

May 15, 2011
Originally published in The Morning Call

The early Moravians, who founded the city of Bethlehem, were planners. They wanted to make sure that their young men and women would receive the kind of education that would help their children build a foundation for their future and prepare them for leadership and service for the common good. With this kind of plan in mind, Benigna Zinzendorf founded a school in 1742 that would later become Moravian College.

What is our plan, as citizens of Pennsylvania, for the education of our youth?

Slashing funding for education, as Gov. Corbett proposes, may balance the budget in the immediate future, but do we have a comprehensive educational plan or set of coherent policies that can guide and inform our budgetary decisions for the long-term health of the commonwealth?

Currently, the commonwealth is blessed with a complex network of educational institutions. This network is one of its great strengths. Let me encourage our governor and elected representatives in Harrisburg to develop a comprehensive plan for the education of the commonwealth's youth and then consider how best to fund this plan in a forward-looking way.

Let me share some thoughts, as a citizen and as an educator, about what some of the elements of an educational plan might be for preschool through high-school students.

First, we should support preschool programs fully. Psychologists have shown the first three years of a child's life are critically important to the child's educational future. If our children are to succeed in school and in life, we need to provide all children with excellent preschool programs.

This is also in our best interests as citizens of the commonwealth. Arthur Rolnick and Rob Grunewald, economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, have done extensive research in trying to find an answer to this question: How should a community invest its resources to develop a vibrant and growing economy? Their 2005 study shows that the best investment a community can make is an investment in preschool educational programs. The more a community invests in preschool programs, the greater the size of the employable workforce and the larger the tax base will be for the generation of tax revenue. The more a community invests in preschool programs, the less it has to invest in welfare programs and the fewer prisons it will have to build. Their studies also show that there is a greater, long-term economic benefit to communities that invest in preschool educational programs than in professional sports arenas. There is a direct economic benefit, therefore, to the community which invests in preschool educational programming.

Second, since the 1830s, the commonwealth has developed an impressive network of public schools from kindergarten through 12th grade. Now is the time to ask some serious questions about our public school system. What do we expect of our public schools? What role might testing play in our children's education? What is the constructive role that charter schools play within the public school systems of the commonwealth? How can we train, support and honor public school teachers? How can we assess teachers' work more effectively? What is the constructive role that teachers' unions can play in creating more effective schools? What is the most equitable way to fund public education?

Citizens of the commonwealth should strive to have the very best K-12 public schools in the nation so that all of our children, regardless of their socio-economic background, race, or sex can prepare for a future characterized by personal and communal well-being.

I cannot see how the proposed budget cuts will help us realize such an aspiration. They are a short-term tactic to balance the budget. The proposed cuts also serve to undermine confidence and pride in our public preschool through high school education programs.

Let me encourage our governor and elected representatives to convene a blue-ribbon commission made up of educators and leading citizens to develop a comprehensive education plan. This plan would set forth the policies that could guide our elected representatives, both locally and commonwealth-wide, in their budget deliberations. Yes, the commonwealth's budget must be balanced, but not at the expense of our children.

Christopher M. Thomforde is president of Moravian College.