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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

We have a reason to celebrate!


This election was an important one with a lot at stake.  These past two years, education has faced a lot of challenges: the loss of crucial educational programs, drastic budget cuts, attempts to undermine public schools through privatization and diverting funds to other programs – even the very idea that every child deserves a free and appropriate education.  On Tuesday, voters across the Commonwealth made it clear that they want every kid in every community to have an opportunity to learn.  More and more, we are making education a top tier voting issue!

Education Voters Action Fund is proud to announce that, as of this morning, 20 of our 28 endorsed candidates have won, with 2 races still being resolved.  Education was a focal point in many of these races.  EVAF was talking to communities and to candidates to help ensure a robust dialogue about public priorities and how our decisions affect the quality of education.  In many more races education played a key role in debates, with candidates stating opposition to the extreme cuts; telling voters they will support community schools; trying to defend their positions on some of the controversial issues or justify some of their poor positions.  Some were taking a stand and pledging to fight for a better funding system with the resources needed to provide quality programs for all students.

The Senate now has 27 Republicans and 23 Democrats, with education supporters from both parties.  The House (at the time of this email) has 109 Republicans and 89 Democrats.

We would like to congratulate ALL of the pro-public education candidates – for running for public office and helping to present voters with a better understanding of the issues and for making a commitment to Pennsylvania’s students and our communities in their candidacy.  Our endorsed candidates are listed below with those who won in bold; you can also CLICK HERE to check out our elections website.  

By the way, we don’t make endorsements in every race, so you may not see your legislator on here as someone we supported or opposed.  We focus on a selection of races where there is a key contest and/or contrast between candidates and when legislators have championed a particular issue.  There are a few legislators who sought our endorsement but may not have been in a very competitive race.  In those cases, we review everything, and endorse when it seems appropriate; it is a great thing when legislators want to make sure they get the Education Voters Action Fund seal of approval!  If you want to know more about our perspective on your legislator, please email us here and we will follow up with you.  Better yet, plan to go meet with your representative and talk to them!  You can email us and we can assist you with that too.

SD-1, Sen. Larry Farnese (D); Philadelphia (incumbent)
SD-7, Sen. Vincent Hughes (D); Philadelphia (incumbent)
SD-15, Rob Teplitz (D); Dauphin County  (new to the legislature)
SD-17, Sen. Daylin Leach (D); Montgomery County (incumbent)
SD-31, Sen. Pat Vance (R); Cumberland County (incumbent)
SD-37, Matt Smith (D); Allegheny County (served as Representative, new to the Senate)
SD-47, Kim Villella (D); Beaver County
SD-49, Sean Wiley (D); Erie County (new to the legislature)

HD-7, Rep. Mark Longietti (D); Mercer County (incumbent)
HD-18, Rep. Gene Digirolamo (R); Bucks County (incumbent)
HD-22, Erin Molchany (D); Allegheny County (new to the legislature)
HD-29, Rep. Bernie O’Neill (R); Bucks County (incumbent)
HD-31, Rep. Steve Santarsiero (D); Bucks County (incumbent)
HD-39, Dave Levdansky (D); Allegheny County (race has not yet been called for either candidate)
HD-70, Rep Matt. Bradford (D); Montgomery County (incumbent)
HD-81, Rep. Mike Fleck (R); Huntingdon County (incumbent)
HD-89, Susan Spicka (D); Franklin County
HD-96; Mike Sturla (D); Lancaster County (incumbent)
HD-104, Chris Dietz (D); Dauphin County
HD-130, Russ Diesinger (D); Berks County
HD-131, Kevin Deely (D); Lehigh County  (race has not yet been called for either candidate)
HD-152, Thomas Murt (R); Montgomery County (incumbent)
HD-156, Bret Binder (D); Chester County
HD-157, Paul Drucker (D); Chester County
HD-163, Rep. Nick Micozzie (R); Delaware County (incumbent)
HD-166, Rep. Greg Vitali (D); Delaware County (incumbent)
HD-167, Rep. Duane Milne (R), Chester County (incumbent)
HD-188, Rep. Jim Roebuck (D); Philadelphia County (incumbent)

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Who "owns" the schools? Thinking about fiction with a non-fiction eye...


The soon to be released movie “Won’t Back Down” is raising some controversy [in no small part because it is a fictional story and as such, the plot doesn’t require the characters to negotiate the realities of the actual non-fictional world].  If you haven’t heard about it, it is the made up story of a parent and teacher who work together to take over the actual operation of their school. This is based on so-called "parent trigger" laws, which purport to give parents  authority to turn over the management of their school, (the assumption tends to be that it will usually be to a charter operator.   I’d be happy to talk about the positives and negatives of charter policy any day, but let’s just leave that aside for the moment.)

Here is one of the (many) important questions that the movie seems to miss.  Who “owns” the schools?

Is it the parents who have children enrolled that year?  All the parents in the district?  Only the parents of children who participate in the public school system?  

Let’s think about this: can a group of people who have homes along a specific road vote to turn it over to a company to run the road?  Do the people who live adjacent to a public park have the right to vote to turn it over it over to a developer who wants to build houses or an amusement park company? 

So if we do this -- who gets to vote?  Just the parents?  The ones with kids enrolled now, or should we include the ones with kids who are slated to enter the school next year?  The people who just moved here and are pregnant?  Or should it actually be the entire community?

The fact is that community resources belong to the broader community – we ask all members of a community to participate in supporting its assets and shouldering the liabilities because we know that a good, strong community serves all of its citizens – and a weak one fails us all.  We ask people who don’t drive to pay for roads and people who have a house that isn’t burning to pay for the fire department.  Why?  Because living in society isn’t, and shouldn’t be, purely transactional.  Reasonable people recognize that you benefit from having a hospital available even if you never use it; that the food you buy at the grocery store that you walk to was transported on the roads you don’t drive upon.   We have local elected officials, including school boards, that are elected to make decisions about our schools and that are accountable to the broader community – that is how we’ve decided to handle the issue of "who decides".

So what should parents and teachers do if they think a school needs to change, and can’t wait any longer?

It is true that parents and teachers need to work together to demand change for our schools.  More parents should go to budget hearings about our schools and ask their elected officials for meetings. Make those officials walk in the door of the school you are worried about every month and give them hell if they aren’t responsive.  I’d love to see teachers at individual schools stage a targeted one day walk out over the loss of an art program, or cuts to the time of the school nurse or the quality of lunches (all planned ahead of time so parents can make childcare plans).  Right now we often ask teachers to work in, and tolerate, very difficult conditions and then we vilify them for accepting the status quo.  So, let’s make it okay for them to refuse to stand by any longer.  Chicago teachers took a stand to talk about learning conditions, and the majority of parents supported them.  I would join the teachers in this kind of effort.  A lot of parents would.   We can also vote – locally and for state officials – so that those who represent us know that we want more support for our schools.  Public education has been taken for granted for a long time, and politicians have not been accountable for what happens.  When it comes right down to it, they prefer to point at parents and teachers for what isn't working. But how is a parent or a teacher responsible for a crumbling wall or a lack of text books? 

There is only one solution that matters, and that is that every school in every community needs to be able to provide a comparable opportunity to learn: a decent school building with reasonable facilities; sane class sizes so there is time for individual learning and relationships that make it stronger; good materials; trained teachers who have the time to develop their craft and work together to plan to meet specific needs.  That needs to happen, even in the poorest schools and right now, in 2012, it isn’t. Right now, we are providing schools to children largely based on what we expect them to do with the opportunity – so we have low expectations for some communities and we rationalize giving them crappy schools.  

So - here’s another idea for a parent trigger law, if you want to give people the power to do what they need to do for their school – how about passing a law that a group of parents can sign a petition that forces the state to allocate the appropriate level of funding to fix a building, supply nurses and librarians, books, provide special education and ELL services, give teachers classroom assistants and to provide schools with teacher leaders to do high quality professional development and as well as real planning with teachers to implement best practices.  I would sign that.  


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Build a United Voice

Everyone should be able to live in a community that has a school they are proud of, and everyone deserves to know that their voices are being heard by our public officials, both local and state. But, for almost the past two years, public education has been the target of ideological attacks, and too many people feel that their voices and concerns about this are not being heard. Education funding is constantly at stake for additional cutting (as if $860K was not enough) and because of this, programs proven to be successful for student achievement are being eliminated.

On Saturday, September 22nd, EVPA is hosting a day-long Statewide Advocate Leadership Session. This session is a chance to provide advocates with an understanding of the education issues we are facing today and the tools needed to engage others. The session will also provide an opportunity to starting planning for next year in a collaborative and coordinated way. As a state, we ALL benefit when ALL children have an opportunity to learn.


Registration is $25 and includes breakfast, lunch and all training materials. Don’t wait…space is limited.


Saturday, September 22, 2012
Temple University Harrisburg - Room 246
234 Strawberry Square
Harrisburg, PA 17101
8am – 4:30pm

Click HERE for an agenda


Help us spread the word. The more people we engage, the stronger our voices will be.

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Good and the Bad

The fiscal year is over and a new budget has been passed for FY 2012-13, which includes some victories and some defeats for education issues.

THE BUDGET

The Good: By working together and speaking up, we were successful in getting funding restored in both Senate and House budget proposals which the Governor proposed be cut in his budget. Basic Education Funding (BEF), the Accountability Block Grant, Higher Education and Early Ed were not cut any further over last year’s devastating cuts. Included in the basic education line item is $50 million for fiscally distressed schools, $10 million of which will be in the form of zero-interest loans.

The Bad: This cements the drastic funding cuts education received in this current year’s current budget. As revenues continue to come in higher than projected, our job moving forward will be to continue to remind our legislators of the importance of providing a quality education to ALL students in Pennsylvania, the benefits of these investments and urge them to fight to restore the resources needed to support the programs our children need to learn.

Public Funds for Private Education: Vouchers and EITC/EITC 2.0

The Good: For over a year, we have been fighting voucher supporters/special interests and their deep special interest pockets in their attempt to push a voucher program that would send taxpayer dollars to private institutions. There is no evidence of success and no accountability or transparency for these public funds and the majority of the money would likely go to students already enrolled in private schools. Understanding that voters of Pennsylvania strongly oppose such a program, these special interests --and the legislators they fund -- settled for an expansion of a program that already exists. The funding was capped at $50 million and although it does draw money from the state budget, it won’t be subtracted from the basic education line item.

The Bad: This program expansion (EITC increases and EISC) are really kind of “back door vouchers” and they do re-direct funding away from our general revenues and limits funds that could be used to prevent other cuts.

CHARTERS

The Good: Instituting a “statewide authorizer” for charter schools was a budget priority for Governor Corbett, but he lost that fight. A statewide authorizing entity would have removed local control and input on the creation of charter schools in local school districts, all the while leaving local taxpayers with the responsibility to pay for them. Legislators heard the concerns of their constituents, including the need for thorough updating to charter school law that isn’t rushed through at the last minute, and public involvement helped ensure that the bad elements of the proposal were not passed.

The Bad: Since the proposed policy included some bad provisions, a number of needed updates to current policy were not made; including fixes to the current funding structure. Charter schools are part of the public education landscape and we need sensible reform to fix the flawed funding structure, to promote fairness, transparency and accountability, to make sure communities have a say, and to allow charters to fulfill their mission. Moving forward, we will need to continue our fight against a statewide authorizer and in urging our legislators to enact real charter school funding reform.

SPECIAL EDUCATION

The Good: Legislation (SB 1115) promoting the equitable distribution of special education funding actually passed both chambers and created an important conversation about this issue. As a result of the process and excellent work done by both advocates and legislative champions, more legislators deepened their understanding of how special education funding works (or hasn’t).

The Bad: Unfortunately, SB 1115 was held hostage during budget negotiations. In the fall it will be imperative to make sure that our legislators move this important legislation forward, unencumbered by other issues, and start providing equitable funding to Pennsylvania’s neediest students.

The Good: This budget season is a great example of how your voices have an impact on state policy. Thank you for the many thousands of calls and emails you sent to your legislators in the last few months. Most importantly, thank you for the continuous support you’ve given to the students of Pennsylvania to help ensure sure that they receive an opportunity to learn.


Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Good and The Bad: recap of budget and other activities

The fiscal year is over and a new budget has been passed for FY 2012-13, which includes some victories and some defeats for education issues.

THE BUDGET

The Good: By working together and speaking up, we were successful in getting funding restored in both Senate and House budget proposals which the Governor proposed be cut in his budget. Basic Education Funding (BEF), the Accountability Block Grant, Higher Education and Early Ed were not cut any further over last year’s devastating cuts. Included in the basic education line item is $50 million for fiscally distressed schools, $10 million of which will be in the form of zero-interest loans.

The Bad: This cements the drastic funding cuts education received in this current year’s current budget. As revenues continue to come in higher than projected, our job moving forward will be to continue to remind our legislators of the importance of providing a quality education to ALL students in Pennsylvania, the benefits of these investments and urge them to fight to restore the resources needed to support the programs our children need to learn.

Public Funds for Private Education: Vouchers and EITC/EITC 2.0

The Good: For over a year, we have been fighting voucher supporters/special interests and their deep special interest pockets in their attempt to push a voucher program that would send taxpayer dollars to private institutions. There is no evidence of success and no accountability or transparency for these public funds and the majority of the money would likely go to students already enrolled in private schools. Understanding that voters of Pennsylvania strongly oppose such a program, these special interests --and the legislators they fund -- settled for an expansion of a program that already exists. The funding was capped at $50 million and although it does draw money from the state budget, it won’t be subtracted from the basic education line item.

The Bad: This program expansion (EITC increases and EISC) are really kind of “back door vouchers” and they do re-direct funding away from our general revenues and limits funds that could be used to prevent other cuts.

CHARTERS

The Good: Instituting a “statewide authorizer” for charter schools was a budget priority for Governor Corbett, but he lost that fight. A statewide authorizing entity would have removed local control and input on the creation of charter schools in local school districts, all the while leaving local taxpayers with the responsibility to pay for them. Legislators heard the concerns of their constituents, including the need for thorough updating to charter school law that isn’t rushed through at the last minute, and public involvement helped ensure that the bad elements of the proposal were not passed.

The Bad: Since the proposed policy included some bad provisions, a number of needed updates to current policy were not made; including fixes to the current funding structure. Charter schools are part of the public education landscape and we need sensible reform to fix the flawed funding structure, to promote fairness, transparency and accountability, to make sure communities have a say, and to allow charters to fulfill their mission. Moving forward, we will need to continue our fight against a statewide authorizer and in urging our legislators to enact real charter school funding reform.

SPECIAL EDUCATION

The Good: Legislation (SB 1115) promoting the equitable distribution of special education funding actually passed both chambers and created an important conversation about this issue. As a result of the process and excellent work done by both advocates and legislative champions, more legislators deepened their understanding of how special education funding works (or hasn’t).

The Bad: Unfortunately, SB 1115 was held hostage during budget negotiations. In the fall it will be imperative to make sure that our legislators move this important legislation forward, unencumbered by other issues, and start providing equitable funding to Pennsylvania’s neediest students.

The Good: This budget season is a great example of how your voices have an impact on state policy. Thank you for the many thousands of calls and emails you sent to your legislators in the last few months. Most importantly, thank you for the continuous support you’ve given to the students of Pennsylvania to help ensure sure that they receive an opportunity to learn.

Sincerely,

Susan Gobreski

Executive Director

Thursday, June 21, 2012

TAKE ACTION Against EISC and a Statewide Authorizer

On Monday, the House Education Committee will meet to review HB 2468, proposed legislation that would create a new Education Improvement Scholarship Credit (EISC). EISC would re-direct dollars away from revenue collections, therefore reducing the amount of revenue the Commonwealth has to use for programs and services. In addition, the proposal calls for an increase in the current EITC program from $75 million to $100 million next fiscal year and $200 million for subsequent years. That’s $450 million in tax credits over the next three years that would be taken out of our coffers, and directed to private schools, even as we cut current funding for our public schools, which serve the vast majority of our children. (Learn more about EISC HERE.)

Contact your legislator NOW! How can they divert more taxpayer dollars to private education when school districts are cutting out kindergarten? It is their constitutional obligation to provide every child in public school with a “thorough and efficient education”!

Also being negotiated with the budget is a bill focusing on “charter reform” (without the reform). It’s imperative that any charter reform bill includes actual reform to how charters are funded, increases accountability and DOES NOT include a statewide authorizer that will take away local authority and input.

TAKE ACTION NOW: Call and/or email your legislator and urge them to OPPOSE a statewide authorizer. We need REAL charter reform that can save money for our struggling school districts and also provide accountability for our tax dollars.


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

6-20-12 Legislative Update

We have less than two weeks until the budget deadline of June 30th. There is a lot happening on the topic of public education and important bills are coming into play. Below is a quick update on what has happened in the last 2 ½ weeks.

Pennsylvania Budget
On June 5th, the House amended the budget bill, SB 1466 to increase funding for Accountability Block Grants, also known as “ABG” to $100 million, from the Senate’s proposal of $50 million, by shifting funds from several Department of Community and Economic Development line items and moving $24 million of the $50 million designated for distressed school districts. GOP leaders are currently in negotiations with the Governor, where he continues to push more than $300 million in additional cuts. Corbett wants to pass a severe budget and not utilize approximately $500 million of revenue surplus (i.e. money that came in that wasn’t initially projected). Currently, both the House and Senate proposals would reduce budget cuts by using some of that surplus revenue for important programs.

In addition to the Governor’s severe budget cuts, he is trying to push several items as part of the Harrisburg deal making that goes with budget negotiations. These bills include:
  • A $66 million/year tax credit for 25 years to lure a Shell ethane cracker to Beaver County for a total of $ 1.65 billion.
  • Several education “reforms” that could include trying to jam through some form of vouchers and/or a charter proposal that would create a statewide authorizer (Bad idea! This means communities could be responsible for paying but have no say over whether or not a school is established or accountable!).
  • A bill to establish teacher evaluation standards that include using standardized test scores as performance measures.

The legislature has two more weeks to come to an agreement. Now is the time to contact your legislators and urge them to invest in public education. Budgets are about priorities and it’s about time we make the future (our students) a priority in Pennsylvania. CLICK HERE to send an email to your legislators.

Charters/Vouchers
A bill dealing with charter reform and/or vouchers is one of the Governor’s budget negotiating points. Currently there are various bills that have been introduced that deal with different aspects of charter “reform”. Rep. Christiana introduced a bill (HB 2468) that would increase the current EITC program and also create a new program, the Education Improvement Scholarship Credit (EISC), which is essentially a voucher package under another name. Rep. Fleck introduced an alternative bill (HB 2364) that would fund charters based on actual costs incurred and would provide more accountability. Last week, Rep. Gerber, along with Rep. Evans, Rep. Santarsiero and Rep. Wheatley, announced he will introduce a bill that would increase EITC funding and also create a new program, the Keystone Scholarship Tax Credit (KSTC), which would be aimed at students within the boundary of low-achieving schools and come from a low-income household. Though no action has been taken on either of these bills, there is always a possibility they will be moved along with the budget. We continue to oppose vouchers because 1) they don’t work (i.e. they don’t improve achievement) 2) they are very costly and take money away from students that are already suffering from under-resourced schools and 3) they are un-Constitutional, and we think that should matter.

**EISC is scheduled for a vote MONDAY, 6/25/12. TAKE ACTION NOW!***

Special Education
This Tuesday, the House Education Committee unanimously passed Senate Bill 1115. The bill establishes a legislative commission to create a funding formula that would distribute special education funding to schools in a more equitable manner. This bill has been around for a few years now and has been a bipartisan effort. The bill is scheduled to be reviewed and may be voted on by the House this week.

Fiscally Distressed School Districts
This Monday, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved HB 1307, sending it on for consideration. This bill sets forth procedures for the Dept. of Education to develop and implement parameters for declaring school districts financially distressed. There are many problems with this bill, but one good thing is that it was amended to allow for public input about criteria for whether a district is financially distressed. Yesterday, the Senate passed the bill and sent it back to the House for concurrence. For more information on this bill, CLICK HERE.

Next Two Weeks – Stay Alert
As we get closer to June 30th, there is a strong possibility a voucher/charter bill will be introduced and forced through both chambers. Be ready to contact your legislators! It’s imperative that any charter reform bill includes actual reform to how charters are funded, increases accountability and DOES NOT include a statewide authorizer. We will keep you posted as the issues progress in the next two weeks

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Sense and Sensibility

Yesterday, the House Education Committee unanimously passed Senate Bill 1115. The bill establishes a legislative commission to create a funding formula that would distribute special education funding to schools in a more equitable manner. This bill has been around for a few years now and has been a bipartisan effort.

During the meeting, Rep. O’Neil mentioned that this bill stems from the costing out study that was commissioned in 2007 to determine the “cost” to educate a student. The study concluded that Pennsylvania was under-funding K-12 education by more than $4 billion and that the system then in place relied too heavily on local property taxes.

The study also found that due to heavy reliance on local property taxes, districts with the lowest wealth were forced to levy higher tax rates than wealthier districts but still could not raise enough revenue to finance an adequate education for all their students. (Pennsylvania School Funding Campaign)

Rep. Tallman mentioned that funding special education using a formula made sense. Hmm….in 2008, the General Assembly passed a funding formula for basic education (it did not include special education funding) aimed at providing adequate funding. But since Governor Corbett took office, he and the General Assembly stopped using the funding formula and proceeded to reduced state funding for education by almost $1 billion, and they have made it even harder for local school districts to raise property taxes. If funding education by using a formula that is based on current data and the needs of children makes sense for special education, why wouldn’t it make sense for basic education? It’s not like they would have to create a new law…we already have one on the books…we just need to use it.

To learn more about what should belong in a funding formula, CLICK HERE.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Obligation

Last week, Rep. Christiana (R-Beaver) proposed legislation that would create a new Education Improvement Scholarship Credit (EISC). EISC would authorize a total of $450 million in tax credits over the next three years.

This program would re-direct dollars away from revenue collections, therefore reducing the amount of revenue the Commonwealth has to use for programs and services. In addition, the proposal calls for an increase in the current EITC program from $75 million to $100 million next fiscal year and $200 million for subsequent years. So money would be taken out of our coffers, and directed at private schools, even as we cut current funding for our public schools, which serve the vast majority of our children.

These recent cuts of over $900 million to public education have seriously affected the educational opportunities available to Pennsylvania students (as documented in a recent report). School districts are being forced to eliminate programs (such as kindergarten), close school buildings, increase class size and let go of teachers and aides. Education is starting to go backwards in Pennsylvania and students are the ones who are being negatively affected.

The Governor is trying to get the Senate and House to reduce the total amount of money to spend in their proposed budgets, both of which restore a portion of the Governor’s proposed education cuts in his FY 2012-2013 budget. The Governor has said that we have limited resources (despite having left over a year-end balance of $267 million if the House/Senate “budget amount” is enacted). If this is the case, why would we enact legislation that would further reduce our limited resources by reducing the commonwealth’s revenue by $725 million total in the next three years (Christiana’s proposal for EITC and EISC)?

The General Assembly has a constitutional OBLIGATION to EVERY child who attends public schools to provide them with a “thorough and efficient” education! If the state legislature and our Governor are unwilling to make sure that every child will be able to attend kindergarten next school year, how can they justify diverting more taxpayer dollars to private education? It’s time they start fulfilling their obligation.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Budget Priorities

Budgets are about priorities. When families across the state determine their budgets, they determine what items are more important than others. The Governor has shown us with this year’s budget and his proposal for next year’s budget that public education is not a priority for him. As a final budget is hashed out this month, Governor Corbett is trying to negotiate a tax bill that will give Shell a $67 million annual tax credit for 25 years, starting in 2017, which is close to $1.7 billion in tax credits. I wonder what Governor Corbett’s priorities are?

This month, the General Assembly will determine what their priorities are and we must make sure they know what ours are. This week, House members will begin to consider the Senate’s budget proposal and start forming their own proposal to introduce. The Senate’s proposal was a good step in the right direction, but we must urge the House to do more.

Recently, there have been new projections from the Independent Fiscal Office indicating that the state’s revenue situation is improving at a significantly higher rate than expected. We urge the State House build on the Senate’s proposal and restore additional funding to education.

We suggest the following actions:

  • Add at least $50 million for charter school reimbursement support to school districts to begin to restore the cut of $223 million made last summer.
  • Re-structure the charter school formula to reimburse the charter schools for appropriate cost per pupil (approx. $100 million dollars would be available)
  • Provide at least a cost-of-living increase to the Basic Subsidy and Special Education line items, which will help to mitigate the seriously negative effects of last summer’s huge cut in state funding for school districts.
  • Support Rep. Murt’s amendment (A10902) to restore funding to Keystone STARs and keep the door open for early learning.

CLICK HERE to urge your representative to invest in our future by investing in public education.

SPECIAL EDUCATION FUNDING

Up for a vote today is SB 115, a bill that will provide equality and accountability to how the state funds special education. Currently, the funding system for special education is broken, and students with the most needs are being impacted. The bill passed the Senate Appropriates Committee last week and goes to the Senate for a vote TODAY. CLICK HERE to urge your Senator to vote this important bill.

Our legislators need to hear from you now. Please take a few minutes today to contact them.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Parents and Community Leaders Respond to Call to Action

All week long, people across Pennsylvania have been taking action to show their support for public education. There were tens of thousands of actions taken: people made calls, spoke at meetings, attended rallies, visited elected officials, signed petitions, got on buses, talked to their neighbors – we heard a few people from another organizations even got arrested! Dozens of organizations, associations and hundreds of individuals sent out the Call to Action information to their networks. All of it was to say “we support an opportunity to learn for every child, and public education is a good public investment” and to ask the people we have elected to stand up for what we stand for.

Here are some of the things people did:

One group of parents got together and wrote letters to their elected officials. They have been reaching out, and this one group generated 165 letters so far. "With massive layoffs in one area school district, significant cuts to Allentown programs, and classrooms with more than 30 elementary school children in them, Lehigh Valley schools can't take any more cuts," said Dana. "Lehigh Valley parents want education funding restored and will keep writing and calling until legislators and the Governor hear us!"

Another group boarded a bus and went to Harrisburg on Tuesday. "I led a delegation of ten parents and six kids to Harrisburg, where we lobbied more than a dozen of our representatives," said Kathy. "The children showed us that they could be great advocates for their own cause. They presented staffers in Representative Turzai's office with a packet of letters from children in his district. They told his receptionist: 'We are here because we love our school and we want it to stay a great school. Shouldn't grownups care as much as we do about our education?'"

Laurie sent us a text from a meeting to tell us that their Senator remarked that other Senators were commenting on how many calls they were getting!

The Governor is feeling the heat: they sent out a very defensive press statement on our Call-In Day trying to spin their education budget cuts. It’s these types of things that let us know that these calls are making a real impact!

Here’s what just a couple of people who made calls had to say about their experience:

  • “I expressed my concern regarding the impact of budget cuts on special education in the Shippensburg Area School District and I expressed how this is a big concern for parents of children with learning disabilities. The staff member was receptive and asked for details of my concern. She advised she would relay the information.” - Amanda R. (Cumberland County)
  • “When I asked that the Governor and the PA Legislator reinstate cuts, Stuart at Governor Corbett's office insisted to me that there were no cuts to the district that came from the state level last year. He says that the only cuts were the result of lost stimulus money. I challenged him on this but he insisted this was the case. It was a very frustrating conversation.” - Anne B. (Philadelphia County) Read about the stimulus money HERE.

There were large rallies that took place in several cities. In Harrisburg, more than 1,000 students from the Harrisburg School District gathered on the Capitol steps to protest cuts to public education that are hitting places like Harrisburg the hardest.


Students paid a visit to legislators, including the Chair of the Senate Education Committee, Jeff Piccola, to deliver letters and talk about why these cuts are severely compromising their future. Read the full article on this rally HERE. There were big rallies in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia too – with students, parents, educators and community members.

Clearly people across the state have already stepped up to let Harrisburg know that we support public schools and do not want these cuts, but the next few weeks will be important and there will be more to do. There is legislation on a number of education related policies, including topics such as special education, charter schools and financially distressed school districts (and we hope vouchers will stay off the agenda and there won’t be any funny business attempt to sneak it through!), that may move or be voted on sometime next month. We will keep a close eye on these issues and expect to ask you to take action again in the coming weeks. Stay tuned!

Meanwhile, the staff and volunteers at Education Voters are very proud to be a part of this network of people willing to speak up for our students. Thank you again for everything you are doing to support public education, and have a wonderful holiday weekend!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Today's Call to Action: call for Kindergarten, smaller class size, arts... and so much more!



Today is the day!  Thousands of people across the state will participate in our Call to Action for Public Education!  Take 5 minutes to call the Governor and your state legislators and tell them to stop the cuts and support public schools!  

Click HERE for all of the information you'll need to participate, here are the 3 main points you should make:

1.  The proposed cuts to education are drastic and unacceptable; cutting public education is the worst thing we could do for our economy and the future of our state.
2.  We need to restore funding to get us closer to fully funding the cost of a quality education for every child.
3.  This is my top priority as a taxpayer and voter and I will be closely following this issue as budget negotiations continue.

You can look up your legislators' contact information here.
Governor's Office: (717) 787-2500
Some people have already started contacting the Governor's office and we're starting to get an idea of some of the myths you might come up against.  Here are a few helpful tips on what to expect and how to fight back with the TRUTH!

You may hear...


1.  MYTH:  education is actually getting an increase
FACT: the administration has played some number games with the budget to be able to say this (such as lumping together some previously separate line items and including costs that have nothing to do with in-the-classroom instruction); the fact remains that over half of the school districts in the state, especially the poorest ones, have said that they will be forced to make significant cuts if this budget passes.  The Governor has even said himself: "We reduced education funding if you look at it as a whole."  (Capitolwire; 2/9/2012)

2.  MYTH:  there is no money to invest.
FACT: there are actually hundreds of millions of dollars in the state's revenue surplus that are not being utilized (conversely, the Governor has chastised school districts for not using their funding reserves).  There are also a number of commonsense revenue proposals, like ending corporate tax break and closing loopholes, that have not been pursued.

3.  MYTH:  there have been funding increases for education over the past several years and it's time for schools to take a cut.
FACT: although education funding has been increased during the previous administration, that was because of substantial, historic underfunding.  When support increased, student achievement increased.  This year's massive cuts have effectively wiped out all of the progress that was made with school funding, and now the Governor has proposed even more cuts!
It's okay to keep your message simple, but we wanted to give you a sense of what we are hearing so far and how you might counter some of the Governor's talking points.  Other information on the Call to Action is below.  This is our chance to make a real impact, so get out there and make those calls and remember that there are thousands of Pennsylvanians out there who are with you!

Sincerely,
Susan Gobreski
Executive Director
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REMINDER - This Wednesday is our Call to Action for Public Education!

Budget negotiations between the House and Senate are about to begin and it's so important that they, and the Governor, know that investing in public education is a priority to us!  Join other Pennsylvanians on Wednesday, May 23 and take 5 minutes to call your state legislators and Governor Corbett.  

We made the process as easy as 1, 2, 3.  Click HERE for our Call to Action Guide.
This event is more impactful the more people participate. HELP US SPREAD THE WORD!
  • CLICK HERE to send an email to your friends, family and neighbors asking them to participate.
  • DOWNLOAD a flyer and share it with your network. Share our CALL GUIDE and show people how EASY it is to participate.
  • POST about the call in day on FACEBOOK and TWITTER (use hashtag: #educationpa).
  • TALK about it and send people to our website to learn more.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Evidence of Rainy Days


Today, a new survey of school districts with information about educational programs was released.  The survey results provide alarming evidence of cuts to instructional programs and reduced education opportunities for students in the Commonwealth.  Over half of the state’s 500 school districts participated in the survey and nearly half of these districts anticipate serious financial distress within three years if state and local funding does not improve.

Recently, Governor Corbett has stated that school districts are sitting on large fund balances and are instead “choosing” to cut programs, but the reality is that districts are depleting their fund balances at an alarming rate and some have zero fund balances.

The survey also reports:

  • 20% of school districts may reduce full day kindergarten and other early education programs
  •  More than 1/3 of districts will have to eliminated programs proven to be successful in increase student achievement such as tutoring and summer classes
  • Almost 2/3 of districts will have to increase class sizes
  •  Nearly 60% of districts are reducing or eliminating instruction in art and music and physical education
  •  Almost 50% of districts will have to eliminate or reduce extra-curricular programs, including sports.

With reduce local revenue and a state budget cut of $860 million, local school districts are struggling to close their budget gaps, which are harming the educational opportunities for the students of Pennsylvania.  The General Assembly has a responsibility to support public education and provide a quality education to ALL children with in the Commonwealth.  This doesn’t seem like they are keeping their promise.

On Wednesday, May 23, Pennsylvanians across the Commonwealth will call the Governor and their legislators to tell them it’s raining in Pennsylvania and to use the surplus to invest in public education.  Our future workforce and economy depend on it.  Learn more about how you can participate in our Call to Action for Public Education on May 23rd.