Pennsylvania lawmakers divided over proposal to provide families $1,000 per child for education expenses

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Education in Pennsylvania remains a hot button topic, and as a state Senate committee heard testimony Monday on a bill that would give families stimulus funding for educational-related expenses, one lawmaker called for a truce.

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That was state Sen. Andy Dinniman’s hope when the Senate Education Committee’s hearing started. The panel heard from both proponents and opponents of Senate Bill 1230, which would give families $1,000 per child for educational purposes. The money could be used by parents to buy a computer for their kids’ remote learning, pay for tutoring or even cover private school tuition bills.

“Whether you like this bill or you don’t like this bill, what is happening in our schools is a problem,” said Dinniman, the West Chester Democrat and minority chair on the committee. “We have to come together to solve this problem, and we have to stop the educational wars that go on.”

After Monday’s hearing, while both sides may be interested in an armistice, they remain far apart and their differences on SB 1230 show why.

State Sen. Judy Ward, R-Hollidaysburg, said the purpose of the bill is to use federal CARES Act funding to help parents ensure their children do not fall behind academically as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, which forced schools to close last spring and prompted many to continue at least some form of remote learning this fall.

Public education advocates like aspects of the bill but wonder if the $500 million set aside could be put to better use, such as developing a statewide broadband network that could be utilized by students in rural and underserved areas at no cost. Students in those areas have had a tougher time adjusting to the nontraditional learning environment.

Dr. Eric Eshbach, the assistant executive


Lawmakers, superintendents blindsided by Tennessee Education Department learning loss projections

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Tennessee Department of Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn’s announcement of COVID-19-related learning loss projections for Tennessee students took state lawmakers and school superintendents by surprise.

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In a joint news conference with Gov. Bill Lee last week, Schwinn announced Tennessee students are expected to face learning loss of 50% in English and 65 % in math, stressing the importance of in-person learning. Projections were based on national research and early results of beginning-of-year student checkpoint assessments in Tennessee.

“This press release really caught a lot of us off guard,” Henry County Schools Superintendent Leah Watkins told The Center Square. “I feel like this was a smack in the face of my educators, of my team, who have given up summer break to have had to change everything they do to make it work for a dual environment – virtual and in person. It just feels like an affront to the work that my team does.”

Schwinn did not give superintendents notice of the learning loss announcement on a regular conference call Wednesday morning before the Wednesday afternoon news conference, Watkins said. Superintendents received the data report Thursday evening, after an outpouring of distress.

“I’ve had about 21 superintendents call me furious about the Wednesday release,” state Rep. Scott Cepicky, R-Culleoka, told The Center Square. “They feel betrayed.”

Schwinn apologized to superintendents for the lack of notice on a phone call Friday.

“It’s heartbreaking to see this with no preparation, no opportunity to look at the data to question the data before it’s released,” Watkins said.

Superintendents have raised concerns with the data underlying the department’s projections. When questioned about the source of the data, Schwinn said Wednesday projections were based on a national learning loss study, as well as Tennessee student data collected from the