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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Inquirer Op Ed: Principals seek full funding

Read it on here. 
Authored by Jessica Brown, Otis Hackney, and Marjorie Neff
Posted: Tuesday, April 29, 2014, 1:08 AM
Recently, about 70 principals from the School District of Philadelphia went to City Hall to ask City Council to approve additional funding for schools and to talk about how the budget crisis continues to profoundly affect the learning environment.

We went there to stand together to make a statement, at the end of a full day of managing buildings full of children without enough staff or materials. Earlier that day, many of us administered state standardized tests that will tell us what we already know - our children aren't getting the opportunities to learn what they should.

Many of us have never been to City Hall before for something like this. We are currently putting together our budgets for next year, and again we are faced with the prospect of another year of inadequate state and local funding. So we went to City Hall to ask for help.

We were able to meet with six members of City Council that day. Others had us meet with staff, several more declined, and we are still waiting for a few to call us back. Some seemed sympathetic; some said "something" might happen, but they couldn't say what. A few said other matters were just as pressing. Hardly any made a commitment to do anything specific.

These are our political leaders - the people we elect to solve the city's problems - telling us they couldn't, or wouldn't, say what they would do.

The district needs $320 million, plus the $120 million that was committed last year as part of the "rescue package," which still has not been fully delivered.

Last year, the General Assembly passed enabling legislation to extend the 1 percent sales-tax increase that is set to expire and provide the first $120 million to support public education. This revenue would be recurring funding for the schools, helping this year and in years to come. In addition to the $120 million, there will need to be $75 million to $80 million from other local sources, plus more state funding.

The state should restore the funding that it cut: the $80 million in accountability and school improvement grants, and educational assistance funding, which helped pay for kindergarten and tutoring, among other things, and $109 million in charter reimbursement funding. That allocation helped cover the additional costs of charter schools, which occur because the legislature has not adopted a permanent funding formula to provide adequate support for all children in our state education system.

Those items, which were direct state cuts, would provide $189 million. This doesn't include the money that the state started to allocate through a now-discarded funding formula. If it were in place today, experts estimate we would have an additional $317 million to $500 million.

The city should pass the sales tax for schools to provide recurring, sustainable funding. It could shift some of the millage rate from property taxes back so that schools again receive 50 percent of property taxes. The city could stop giving away the school share of the taxes in the abatement program, and we could direct money from the sales of taxi medallions to schools. None of these things involves a tax increase, even though many people would be willing to pay more taxes if schools would benefit.

If state and local officials take reasonable steps on funding, we could be running well-maintained schools, with enough staff and the core services and academic programs that our children deserve.

But here is the thing:

Every minute we spend planning how to cope with insufficient funding is time we aren't spending with teachers, planning instruction, or working directly with kids - the things that move us forward.

If you give us the resources, we will get better outcomes. Dollars alone won't fix everything, and there are no shortcuts in educating children or dealing with the consequences of pervasive poverty.

But dollars do buy many of the things that each make up part of the solution: smaller class sizes; individual supports and services; teacher training and evaluation of instructional practices; materials and technology; and art, music, recess, counselors, and nurses. These things, which are good enough for the kids in neighboring suburbs, should be good enough for our kids here.

Education is a right, not a privilege. The education of Philadelphia's children should not be dependent on parents' resources, political machinations, the largesse of philanthropists, or the creative abilities of school staff to do more with less. Nor should we ask people to tolerate less and less.

We call on our city and state officials to take responsibility for ensuring this right by fully funding our schools.

Friday, April 25, 2014

April Update: People agree with you.

Spring is here and public education is the top issue for Pennsylvanian voters.  A survey released yesterday lays out the public’s view.  From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: A statewide survey released today shows most registered voters believe public schools have an impact on economic development and should get more state money, using a fair funding formula.”

Here are a few findings: 

·      71 percent said the state needs to make "much larger" or "somewhat larger" investment in public schools.
·      67 percent said schools with higher numbers of impoverished students should "definitely" or "probably" receive more state funding.
·      72 percent said they "strongly favor" or "somewhat favor" using a fair school funding formula.

Read the full article about the survey here. 

Many children in our public schools have lost librarians, counselors, nurses, and art and music programs. They are sitting in crowded classrooms with fewer learning opportunities. Pennsylvania’s public school children can’t afford another year of inadequate state funding and political posturing.

Some people have called
Governor Corbett’s proposed budget  an “election year” budget – a budget with one-time money designed to make elected officials look good - which is to say it is certainly an improvement over the cuts of previous years, but it should be much better.  As our legislators sit down at the table to make decisions about state funding for our public schools, we need to make sure that PA students get what they deserve – a fair budget that gives students the instruction and support they need to meet state standards and a budget our communities can count on.

Here’s what they should do: 

·       The proposed increase of $230 million must be a permanent source of funding in the Basic Education Fund (BEF)* and not distributed to school districts in block grants. Governor Corbett’s proposed block grant has many strings attached and can be eliminated in future budgets.
·       We need a fair, transparent, and accurate funding formula for allocating state funding to school districts. This formula should take political deal making out of the budget process and be based on current data and the real costs of educating students with different needs.
·       The proposed increase for special education of $20 million must stay in the budget. After six years of flat funding for special education, we applaud the decision to finally increase the funding.
·       The budget must restore charter school reimbursement payments to local school districts. Public schools lost hundreds of millions of dollars in state funding when Governor Corbett eliminated this line item in 2011. The legislature made changes to the public education system by adding charter schools, and then put in place the charter reimbursement line to help address the additional costs communities were facing.  Cutting this funding hurt both community school district students and charter school students and compounded an already difficult situation. These funds should be restored until a formula is adopted.
·       Finally, any savings from eliminating the charter school double-dip payments must stay in the education budget and be returned to local school districts so they can pay for essential educational programs. These savings should NOT go to the general fund for the legislature to spend as it pleases.

Sign up here to pledge to take action on May 6th. Next week, we’ll send out the information you need to participate.  Meanwhile – click here for “Save the Date ” language you can send to people you know (PTA/PTO/HSA; community organization, friends and neighbors).

A quick update on progress on special education

The good news is there was $20 million increase special education funding after it had been flat funded for more than five years. This shows what happens when the legislature steps up and gets serious about addressing the needs of children and the role of funding in meeting those needs. However, it is worth noting that this amount did not keep up with the cost of inflation (see the above note about flat funding) – so we still have a long way to go to ensure we are meeting the individual need of every child. But, it’s a start. 

Changing PA’s charter law: What is at stake in SB 1085?

SB 1085 is being discussed in the legislature and there are many questions about what it means for PA charter schools. Improvements to the charter school law are long overdue, but unfortunately, the legislation in the Senate (SB 1085) will not improve PA’s charter school law.
Read more about why Education Voters of PA takes issue with the bill. 

Beware of bad tax proposals that will hurt public education.

A very bad piece of legislation has been gaining traction in Harrisburg. Senate Bill 76 proposes to replace school property taxes with an increase in sales and income taxes.  An analysis by the PA Independent Fiscal Office found that this bill would cause $2.6 billion in cuts to funding for school districts in the next five years. Aaargh!!  The biggest reason that property taxes are a problem in Pennsylvania is because too few state dollars are used to support our public schools, which pressures communities to make up the differences and drives disparities in taxes and schools.  Instead of this proposed tax-shifting gimmick, we need our state legislators to take action to provide adequate and equitable state funding for all of our public schools. 

We’ll work to keep you updated on what they’re up to, ask you to take action and make sure the people we send to Harrisburg are reminded about our priorities as Pennsylvanians.

*Although our current Basic Education Funding distribution is flawed because it’s based on old data rather than updated data, rational principles and mechanisms for driving out money, putting one-time grants for new programs only makes things worse!  Legislators should first restore the cuts, so students can get back what they have lost.  Arguing that we can’t put any money into the BEF because of its flaws when we don’t have an alternative in place just means schools struggle to cope with shrinking funding for essentials. This punishes the children.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

PA Budget and Policy Center: Pennsylvania Taxpayers for Good Public Schools

From the PA Budget and Policy Center:

Get the Facts: Senate Bill Eliminating Property Taxes Largely Unchanged by Amendment

Get the Facts: Property Tax Schemes Jeopardize Good Schools

Campaign Principles and Statement of Support

Sign on to Pa. Taxpayers for Good Public Schools Campaign

Legislative proposals to eliminate property taxes in Pennsylvania have gained steam in the Legislature, posing a serious threat to stable, predictable education funding. Most of the proposals currently before the General Assembly do not address the primary issue with property taxes in Pennsylvania — that too few state dollars are used to support public schools in the commonwealth.

Pennsylvania can help seniors and working families having trouble paying their property taxes with better targeted strategies while still protecting critical investments in public education.

Done well, property tax reform can make it easier for Pennsylvania to finance our schools more equitably for both students and property owners. Done poorly, reform efforts could create larger inequities in the system and reduce school funding.

Sign on to Pa. Taxpayers for Good Public Schools Campaign

Additional Resources

Webinar: Property Tax Relief that Works: Proven Strategies for PA
Webinar: What’s At Stake for PA Schools in Property Tax Elimination
Fact Sheet: Property Tax Elimination Threatens Long-term School Funding
Chartbook: State Tax Rates Would Have to More Than Double to Replace Local School Dollars
Testimony: State Education Funding Cuts and Addressing Property Tax Reform

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Sign our petition to Philadelphia City Council

The state authorized the city to dedicate part of our current sales tax in Philadelphia to school funding, City Council has the power to allocate $120 million as dedicated recurring funding to schools right now and they need to move the legislation and pass it.

Sign our petition to city council asking them to allocate the funding:
The state authorized the city to dedicate part of our current sales tax in Philadelphia to school funding, I am asking you to pass the sales tax extension and dedicate that $120 million in funding for Philadelphia schools. In addition, our schools will need $75 million more in local funding.

Our children continue to be short-changed because of a failure to provide adequate resources to schools. Without sufficient funding, our schools can't provide the basic programs and services our children need to have an opportunity to learn. The state budget continues to be inadequate and unfair; however we can do more at the city level --and we must.
Thanks for making your voice heard on education.

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