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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.

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