This Op-Ed appeared on PennLive on 9/22/13.
By Susan Gobreski, Lawrence A. Feinberg and Susan Spicka
Pennsylvania’s public school children are paying a heavy price for the failure of Governor Corbett and our state legislature to perform the ONLY service mandated by the Pennsylvania Constitution, which clearly states, “The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of the Commonwealth.”
In other words, every child, in every community across Pennsylvania, must receive a decent education – one that prepares them to be informed citizens, meet state standards, and graduate from high school ready for college or the workforce and self-sufficiency.
Pennsylvania’s current system for funding public education is neither thorough nor efficient. Even more troubling, it is most certainly not fair and it is very likely illegal.
Some school districts are unable to provide the programs and services students need to meet state standards, or in some cases, basic and essential learning opportunities; entire groups of students, rural, urban and suburban, are getting a lesser education than their peers in other parts of Pennsylvania. The quality of education our children receive should not be determined by their zip code.
This fall many children returned to classes of 35 or more students and schools that have closed libraries, cut counselors and tutoring and eliminated or cut back courses in foreign languages, music, the arts, technology, and physical education.
Since 2010, funding cuts to education have also cost the commonwealth 20,000 jobs in public schools – teachers, guidance counselors, librarians, aides, cafeteria workers, assistant principals, and other trained professionals who once worked with our children.
On Monday, the Legislature returns to work after break and it is not yet clear what their priorities are. On that day, Pennsylvanians from charter schools and from school districts large and small, wealthy and poor, rural, urban, and suburban, will also go to Harrisburg.
We will call on lawmakers to stand up for a “thorough and efficient system of education” in Pennsylvania at a press conference in the Capitol Rotunda.
We will demand that our state government fulfill its constitutional obligation to provide the resources our schools need and send them out in a rational and fair way so that every student has an opportunity to learn. This should be the top priority of the fall legislative session.
Our state legislators can fix the problems with our system of public education through two actions.
First, state tax dollars allocated for public education MUST be sent out to schools using a fair, accurate and transparent formula that is based on the real costs of educating students with different needs.
Pennsylvania had a funding formula in place, but, in 2011, Governor Corbett and the legislature tossed it out. As a result, in this year’s budget state legislators allocated $30 million in additional funding to just 21 of Pennsylvania’s 500 school communities behind closed doors based on the deals made by some legislators.
To be clear, those students surely needed the programs that additional funding is providing, but so do many others. The quality of your education should not depend on whether you have a powerful elected lawmaker who can cut a special deal. This is unacceptable.
Second, our state legislature must increase the state’s share of public school funding to our school districts. In 2011, the state provided only 34 percent of all funding for our schools, while local taxes accounted for 53 percent.
That puts Pennsylvania 47th of 50 states for supporting schools. Absent a formula, the legislature should restore the funding that has been cut, so children can get the programs and support they need. State underfunding also contributes to significant inequities in school funding between districts.
The reality is that money impacts the educational opportunities our children receive. Money impacts class size, which matters, especially in the early grades. Giving teachers smaller “caseloads” means more individual attention for students, more tailored lesson plans, more specific feedback to students and more in-depth learning.
School libraries improve literacy and give children access to computers and books that they may not have at home. The value of art and music is supported by research; so is extended learning time.
Evidence tells us that skilled principals and teachers are critical to student outcomes – and the recruitment and development that requires, as well as the planning and evaluation time needed for professionals to do their job thoroughly, are all critical ingredients of success. All these things have a cost associated with them and are essential components of a thorough and efficient system of public education.
This fall, Pennsylvanians will be watching Harrisburg to see which legislators will prioritize fulfilling their constitutional obligation to provide our children with “a thorough and efficient system of public education” — and which don’t. Public education is priority for voters and we are watching.
Susan Gobreski writes on behalf of Education Voters of PA. Lawrence A. Feinberg writes on behalf of the Keystone State Education Coalition. Susan Spicka writes on behalf of Education Matters in the Cumberland Valley.