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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!

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.  

Monday, May 21, 2012

Rainy Days….

In a recent article by CBS Philly, Governor Corbett is blaming local school districts for cutting programs.

During a recent appearance with WPHT’s Dom Giordano, Governor Corbett said if school boards want to cut programs instead of spending more of their financial reserves, blame them — not his budget.

“Well, I look at the reserves as – it’s a rainy day fund. And this is a rainy day – we are in a rainy day.”

Corbett said school district cash reserves are meant for times like now.

“But what do we hear out there? ‘Oh my goodness, because of Governor Corbett’s budget, we’re going to have to get rid of all-day kindergarten, we’re going to have to get rid art and music in the classrooms’. Well, if I look at that school district and I see a substantial reserve – that’s their decision.”

But earlier this month, Governor Corbett cautioned state legislators against spending the state’s surplus of $506 million.  In this article, the Governor states, “it might be wiser to hold the money in reserve or use it to pay down debt.”  The Governor’s proposal included slashing an additional $100 million in cuts for public schools, in addition to the over $800 million that was cut in this year’s budget. 

So which is it?  Is it only a rainy day for local school districts and not for the state budget? 

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.  

Friday, May 18, 2012

FY 2012-13 Budget Update

The State Senate recently passed their version of the state budget (SB 1466), which included some restorations of the Governor’s proposed cuts. 

SB 1466 made the following improvements: 
  • Rejected the Governor’s proposal for a new Student Achievement Block Grant that neither supported student achievement nor gave flexibility to school districts.
  • Restored $50 million for the Accountability Block Grant Program, which restores 50% of the Governor’s proposed cut, yet still only 20% of the appropriation made in 2010-2011. 
  • Added $50 million to the Basic Subsidy line item, with the intent that these funds would be distributed to “distressed districts.”
While these additional measures are a move in the right direction, they still do not go far enough!  SB 1466 still has most of the cuts that were enacted in the FY 2011-2012 budget which resulted in increased class size, eliminated programs and eliminated positions in school districts across the state.  In addition, the Senate cut the Child Care Services lines, which support the Child Care Works and Keystone Stars programs, by an additional $8.7 million.  These programs ensure that taxpayers’ investments in child care for working families go to quality programs. 

Recently, there have been new projections 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 $50 million to the Senate-approved funding for Accountability Block Grants, restoring the line item to this year’s level of $100 million (still $150 million below the 2010-2011 budget level).
  • 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.
Talking points to support your arguments:
This budget is out of step of with middle-class families who want good schools for their kids.
  • This budget jeopardizes opportunities for the next generation.  Our youngest children will miss out on opportunities to get a head start in life, while older students won’t be able to take advance classes that could prepare them for college.
  • This budget is about choices; funding can be restored.  Pennsylvania needs a balanced approach to the state budget.
Our economy pays the prices for these budget cuts
  • Last year 21,000 jobs were cut from schools across the commonwealth.  Cuts to public universities drive up tuition and cut off the innovation needed to grow our economy and create new jobs.                                                                 
  • People understand the importance of investments in people, communities and our future
  • Cutting teachers is “penny wise and pound foolish” – it causes harmful changes to educational quality and eliminates middle class jobs and harms our communities.
  • These state cuts aren’t preventing tax increases, they are just moving them around – in many cases pushing them to local communities. 
We can shrink the budget gap without on the middle class or hurting our children.  Policymakers should find efficiencies, close tax loopholes and delay corporate tax cuts that have failed to create jobs.
  • Big profitable corporations have gotten billions in state tax cuts and this has not benefited taxpayers in Pennsylvania
  • Corporate tax cuts have no accountability: business tax cuts require no commitment to create jobs.  Pennsylvania can’t afford this.
  • Corporate income taxes are a small share of business expenses, 2-3%
  • Every penny lost to tax cuts and loopholes must be made up with cuts to schools and local services.  An all-cuts approach will only hurt our ability to create jobs and undermine our quality of life.
We all benefit when the state invests in creating strong communities and healthy economy.

  • Investing in families and children is one of the smartest investments that the state can make.  With a productive workforce and stronger communities, the state will get back much more than what they will spend now