Jerry Zahorchak | Schools worthy investment | Columns

Education for all students in Johnstown, the commonwealth, and the nation should remain publicly supported with taxpayer dollars, controlled with locally elected school boards, and regulated as necessary by the state government. The U.S. Constitution has no verbiage related to education, which makes it solely a state responsibility.

Pennsylvanians must say no to privateers who are against capitalism when they declare that privatization would be good for kids. They’re really saying they just want to profit.

Adam Smith, the 18th-century father of capitalism, notes that public education needs to be one of the government’s only functions along with defense and public works.

Education remains the elixir for many of our problems throughout the world and especially in the U.S.

If we were to think in terms of our nation’s economic productivity, having even a small percentage of our citizenry undereducated erodes our nation’s potential to continue to compete.

Our success in becoming the world’s economic powerhouse has been due in large part to our willingness to invest mightily in the education of all of our people – the original goal of capitalism, and of our nation and state’s founders.

Countries that were not investing in the education of all of their youth before World War II were disadvantaged when attempting to compete with the U.S. However, they have awoken since then, and now most other nations embrace the policies needed to advance the investments necessary to educate all of their citizens.

Meanwhile, here at home, many selfish profiteers, multibillionaires, seem to strategically work to weaken “government schools” in hopes of privatizing education for profit. They seem to tactically deploy multiple means to convince people of the serious problems with public schools.

Those efforts are contrary to the foundations of capitalism and the expectations to sustain the United States’ standing in the world.

I believe we can not afford to abandon the goal of a solid public education system, especially considering the United States has only 300 plus million people versus countries like China with more than 1.5 billion citizens. It’s the educated citizenry needed for the work of innovation, technology, defense, engineering, leadership in the vocational trades, entrepreneurship, and more that leads to better lives for all of us.

Our nation needs all of us to contribute, and therefore we need all of our high school graduates to be on “grade level” when entering post-secondary education, the military or vocational technical careers.

So with that macro introduction, I’ll bring this conversation closer to home.

Teachers all over the country are experiencing strife and pressure like never before, mostly prompted by outside forces; and in school districts that suffer from gross underfunding (all in our region) from the state, the situation is understandably exacerbated and unbearable.

The Greater Johnstown School District is proven to be among the most underfunded systems in Pennsylvania at over $4,000 per students – $14 million annually short.

That means not enough teachers for the regular curriculum; not enough teachers for the interventions such as tutoring; and not enough staff such as teacher’s aides, mental health, school resources, home-school visitors and more. Johnstown does not even have the bare-bones faculty and staff to meet the minimal needs of the children of our community. That’s simply shameful.

The shamefulness of inequitable funding is the root problem, period.

There are many symptoms and lots of confusion exists about how best to respond. Too often, faculty, staff, administrators, board members and community members begin pointing the fingers inward at each other, which is absolutely a wrong and dangerous reaction, but nonetheless it is the frequent reaction. That reaction is like pouring salt into one’s own open wounds.

Students, teachers, parents, staff, administrators, school board members and community members must all bond together to inoculate the school district against outside forces that work to perpetuate inequities or purposely try to degrade public school systems.

Those who work to support and uplift children should keep asking questions to discover root causes and then come together to insist state lawmakers vote to fund schools equitably or lose their right to represent us.

What’s happening at Greater Johnstown tears at all that is good about our great superintendent and extraordinary teachers, our fine principals and dedicated school board members, our beautiful students and our entire community – none of those who are a part of the school community are responsible for the root causes.

We need to raise our voices and pressure state leaders at every level to appropriately fund our schools.

Jerry Zahorchak is a former secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Education and superintendent of the Greater Johnstown School District. His 35-year career in public education also included time as a teacher and football coach.

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