The time has come to treat public education as a bipartisan issue that has benefits for all children, regardless of where they attend school in this Commonwealth.
As state leaders come to Harrisburg to begin the 2014 legislative session, we need them to work together in the best interest of children in every region of our state. We cannot continue to invest in education for some and not all schools.
It limits our children's futures and it hurts our state's economy.
In Pennsylvania, school finance disparities continue to seriously undermine the mission of the state's public schools. Except for the three-year period from 2009-2011 when education funding was based on the number of students and the additional cost to educate certain types of students, Pennsylvania has not allocated its basic state funding to public schools through a predictable, fair or equitable funding formula since 1991. There is a better way.
Pennsylvania has reached a critical crossroad - the 2014 elections are approaching, our economy is recovering, but unemployment is stubbornly high, and our state ranks 46th out of 50 in private sector job creation. Some areas of our state are recovering, while others have not.
This economic pipeline issue starts in our elementary and secondary schools, where we can provide a long-term fix. Investing in education and fixing the way we support schools with a fair and equitable statewide public school funding formula would begin to remedy our economic challenges. Maintaining our current system that dictates the haves and have-nots by community cannot lay the foundation for a stronger statewide economy.
The need for skilled workers has hamstrung us equally in urban, suburban and rural communities. According to the state Department of Labor and Industry, more than 1,200 job openings in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre region alone went unfilled for 90 days or more in 2013, in large part because employers couldn't find adequately skilled workers to fill those jobs.
Nearly 7,000 job openings in seven Western Pennsylvania counties (Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Washington and Westmoreland) went unfilled for the same length of time last year.
Rural areas in particular have struggled to attract new business, grow entrepreneurs and reinvent their local economies after decades of brain drain and industry exits. Among other positive results, a fair funding formula and adequate support to school districts will help produce a better prepared workforce.
We can educate our way to a better economy. But it requires leadership and political will to cooperate in the best interest of our state and all of its citizens.
Even in today's polarized political climate, there is an opportunity approaching. It requires us to raise our voices and express the need to fix the way our state funds our public schools. Now is the time for moms, dads, grandparents and young adults to push for a public school funding formula that supports all schools regardless of their location.
A fair and equitable way of funding Pennsylvania's schools would benefit all regions of our state - the inner cities, suburbs and rural areas - and address the brain-drain by giving our young people the tools to engage in their communities instead of leaving in search of employment.
We all have a stake in the success of public education and we all benefit from great schools. Even if you have no school-age children, consider the fact that employers will assess the quality of your neighborhood schools before choosing to expand in your areas or bring new jobs to our state.
We need to stand behind state leaders who will stand up for students in all regions of our state.
Just as schools provide a structure to guide all students to graduation, our state needs a path forward that supports their futures and ours. Increasing our investment in education and establishing a fair and equitable way of distributing state funds to support all schools can provide a path forward for all of Pennsylvania.
We cannot let this opportunity pass. We need a fair, predictable, adequate and equitable state funding formula now.
Joseph Bard is Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools.
Jim Buckheit is Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators.
Jay Himes is Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials.
Nathan Mains is Executive Director of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association.
J. Hugh Dwyer is Executive Director of Central Intermediate Union 10 and head of the Central Pennsylvania Public School Coalition.