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Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Susan Gobreski, Exeucutive Director of Educations Voters of PA, testifies on funding education before PA House Democratic Policy Committee

On January, 7, 2014, Education Voters of PA Executive Director, Susan Gobreski, testified before the PA State House Democratic Policy Committee about how to approach funding education for the future. Here is her testimony:

Testimony of Susan Gobreski, Executive Director
House Democratic Policy Committee: January 7th, 2014

To highlight a few key points:
  • Every child is constitutionally entitled to an education that allows them to meet state standards.
  • There needs to be enough money and it should be distributed fairly.  This is a foundational principle.
  • We need a funding formula which is based on what an education costs. 
  • We need to reduce the reliance on property taxes which in turn will reduce inequities and could likely will reduce the frustration that is often directed at education because of people’s frustration with tax unfairness. However, anti-property tax schemes that are really designed to foment dissatisfaction with public and community investments need to be shut down in their tracks. Investing in public education is a public good.

The reality is that money impacts the educational opportunities our children receive – we need to provide each child – no matter where they live – how densely or sparsely their community is populated -- with reasonable class size, highly trained teachers, arts and music, early learning, a chance to get individual support, access to technology, safe and healthy learning environments, classroom supplies, books, libraries, nurses, counselors. Teachers need time to do their work and get training and feedback; principals need time to spend with teachers – using data and planning and updating instructional practice to keep up with evolving standards. The conversation is often about dollars, but it really needs to be about educational supports: what do we need to buy to get the results we want?

With the new Common Core standards, we are going to need to take a measured approach to balance support and accountability – what are the inputs needed for the outputs we expect.  It is preposterous to think we can transition to a new set of standards, new assessments (which will cost plenty to do) – without new money.  
Questions you should be looking to get answered:

  • What are the essential educational elements necessary for most children to meet state standards?
  • What are the practices of the high-performing districts, not even in Finland, but here in Pennsylvania? What are their class-sizes? Curriculum? Supports? Counselors?
  • How much time in school, art, counseling, hours of science instruction, math, reading instruction and physical activity does a kid need in order to come through school with a “good” education.
  • What do those things cost?
  • What can we do to stabilize, support and develop the teaching force and supports in high-poverty schools? (To make teaching conditions and practice more like what is happening in PA’s best schools.)
  • What are the right kinds of assessments to measure student learning and what is the best way to use that data to target funding to improve outcomes?  Right now our standardized tests basically tell us what we know – poor kids aren’t getting where we want them to get and schools with a full set of programs are doing fine.  I would hope that the legislature becomes a champion for meaningful assessments that tell us something about what each child needs so we can ensure they are individually on track. I hope the members of the legislature get aggressive about that.
  • If our suburban schools are the metric – and many of them are excellent districts and we should use them as models – then we need to ask ourselves: do Pennsylvania’s rural students, poor students, urban students, minority students – have the same access to advanced courses, stimulating electives, wide array of activities and supports that our “model” districts have?
  • How can we integrate other health and human welfare services to educational services so educators can focus on education, and not be held responsible for every challenge that a child walks in the door with?
  • The charter funding system isn’t working – we are pitting groups of children and communities against each other and themselves. Both charter schools and districts schools are frustrated – but the reality is that the legislature adopted a system that caused these problems and that needs to be fixed. So the legislature must ask: if we are creating additional means of delivering public education with more buildings, more adults and administrative systems, more staff, more children, more vendors and supports – what does the funding system need to look like to accommodate the policy we adopted? Funding for charters needs to fit within a larger framework.

Immediate actions:
  • Take action to develop a funding formula that is based on what a good education costs.
  • Increase the funding for special education now. It is a building block piece.
  • Support early learning. In particular, Education Voters believes that we should provide full-day 4 year old Kindergarten in high-poverty, academically struggling districts.
  • Absent a formula- the legislature should restore the cuts districts have faced over the past two years.  Especially ABG funding and the charter reimbursement funds.
  • Personal opportunity or learning plans: every child who is more than a grade level plan should get a personal learning plan that identifies the academic and health needs of a child and adopts a binding plan to provide those supports.

If we actually do what everyone says they support – focus on the needs of the children, and what they are worth – we can get this right.

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