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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Vouchers don't solve the problem in education

Gov. Tom Corbett has proposed an outrageous $1.1 billion in cuts to schools. Across Pennsylvania, communities are telling legislators to reject these cuts. Otherwise we will be faced with extraordinary choices about programs - shall we cut off our arm or our leg this year?

Yet rather than focus on the big picture, the State Senate is exploring vouchers, in which taxpayers cut checks to some families to send their kid to private school. There are myriad problems with this: a lack of accountability for funds or academic achievement; no certainty of standards, educational quality; no guarantee of student access; legal and constitutional problems, and no research to support it as a way to improve outcomes. Only some would get vouchers, so upwards of 90 percent of kids would remain in the targeted schools. Experts project this could cost $800 million to $1 billion by the third year.

Beyond being an expensive, ill-advised policy, this isn't in the public interest. We don't pay for schools as a community because we think everyone with a kid should get a check. We support public schools because we recognize the connection between an educated community and our shared prosperity. We don't pay to educate our own child; we are a society that believes in opportunity and that education helps create it. It isn't an ATM machine.
We know that every child, not just some, should get an opportunity to learn, regardless of his ZIP code, tax policies or the size of the houses in his hometown. The critical problem with vouchers is that they don't solve the problem. At best, it is a bandage. At worst it is a willful blind eye to the fact that we have significant opportunity gaps: we know which children we are failing and we know what would fix it and we won't do it.

So what should we be doing about the fact that although many Pennsylvania schools are very good, some aren't providing a high- quality education? Our Legislature needs to step it up, not by throwing out a handful of life rafts, but by getting serious and educated about what is needed to provide a genuine opportunity to every kid. They should be addressing:

- What are the most effective academic practices and programs and professional training that improve outcomes?

- What are the schools that are doing poorly lacking? What are the facility, staffing and materials needed to bring them up to acceptable standards?
- What are the schools that are doing well doing?

- The benefits of early education and high-quality pre-K are clearly established, so what is the path to create more availability?

- How can we align educational goals and outcomes to workforce development to better attract jobs and strengthen productivity?

The argument against fixing the problem is that we can't afford it, right? We can't afford not to. If the U.S. had closed the international achievement gap from 1983-1998, U.S. GDP would have been between $1.3 and $2.3 trillion higher, representing 9-16 percent of our GDP. Increased education investments have caused increased achievement. Communities with good schools hold value and remain stable.

There is money on the table if our Legislature chooses to act to benefit our communities, rather than special interests. Without increasing taxes on families, we could tax smokeless tobacco, implement a drilling tax on the Marcellus Shale and close a few special tax loopholes that big corporations are getting. We are the only state that doesn't tax gas extraction. It is a resource of the commonwealth and should be used for that - our common wealth, our shared responsibilities. If we do not use the resources of today to invest in tomorrow, then we are truly fools.

The real demand should not be that we start saving some kids, but that we stop failing to act to save all kids. That we, as adults, plan for the next generation to succeed. If we focus on giving every kid a decent opportunity, in a facility that is acceptable and safe, with tools and materials that are relevant, and adults who are supported in their job and accountable, we can actually solve the problem.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Budgeting away our children’s future

 Gov. Tom Corbett addressed a joint session of the General Assembly this week to outline his proposal for next year’s budget, which includes $1 billion in cuts to the basic education subsidy.  The Governor’s budget also cuts state funding for higher education by a staggering 50 percent!  With the battle lines now clearly drawn, we now anticipate a heated debate in the state legislature.
Your state senators and representatives need to hear from you TODAY!  

Tell them that they must protect the significant improvements we’ve made in public education and not allow us to lose the ground we’ve fought so hard to gain.  Pennsylvania has made incredible progress in student achievement in recent years, posting significant gains across grades and subjects. That progress is directly tied to the targeted investments we’ve made.  It’s not just our kids’ future for our kids that is at stake now. The future of the entire Commonwealth --- our economic prosperity and the quality of life in our communities --- is all on the line, and quality public education is so critical to both. 

Across the Commonwealth,  Pennsylvanians agree that we must make public education a priority, even during tough economic times. Options to increase revenue must be explored.  Harrisburg’s failure to levy commonsense taxes on natural gas drilling, smokeless tobacco and cigars, and refusal to end excessive corporate tax breaks and loopholes has left hundreds of millions of dollar on the table.  We can’t afford to sacrifice our future for the benefit of special interests.   Support for kids, support for education is a bi-partisan issues.  As voters, we don’t care what color our legislator’s bumper sticker is; we just care if they do a good job at protecting our communities, our kids and the future.

We need the actions of our lawmakers to reflect the values of the people they represent, so make your voice heard and click here to send a letter today!

More details on the budget:
School districts would lose more than $1 billion of state and federal stimulus funding.
  • Basic Education Subsidy reduced by $550 million.
  • Accountability Block Grants are eliminated, a loss of $259.456 million.  Much of this was used by districts to support early education.
  • Charter school reimbursement to districts is eliminated, a loss of $224.083 million.  These payments reimbursed school districts for about 25% of their charter school costs; helping to offset fixed costs that districts still incur when a student leaves and the district makes a payment for them.
  • Special Education would be flat-funded for the 3rd consecutive year at ($1.026 billion).
  • Career and Technical Education was level funded at $62 million.
  • Other cuts to school districts amount to more than $50 million.
These other basic education items are eliminated entirely:
  • Basic Education Formula Enhancements ($1.984 million)
  • Dual Enrollment Payments ($6.959 million)
  • School Improvement Grants ($10.797 million)
  • Education Assistance Program ($47.606 million)
  • Science It’s Elementary ($6.910 million)
  • Mobile Science Education Program ($1.6 million) 
  • Intermediate Units ($4.761 million)
  • School Entity Demonstration Projects ($600 thousand)
  • High School Reform ($1.762 million)
  • Lifelong Learning ($825 thousand)
  • Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic ($69 thousand)
  • Job Training Programs ($3.442 million)