The Post-Gazette ran a great op-ed yesterday by Michael Crossey, President of the Pennsylvania State Education Association. The whole piece is reproduced below for your reading pleasure, but I want to call attention to one line in particular: in speaking about the devastating state budget cuts, Crossey asks, “So, what can we do about it? As Pennsylvanians, we can remind the governor and the General Assembly that state government has the constitutional and moral responsibility to fund the public schools.”
This is exactly what we must do. And how do we remind them? It’s as simple as picking up a phone and calling our state legislators and the Governor’s office on Monday for the next state-wide call-in day. This sounds simple, almost too simple, right? But the only way to reverse these cuts is through the budget negotiation process controlled by our state legislators and the only way to get them to fight for our schools is to actually talk to them.
You would be surprised at how few people bother to talk to their local legislators. This is a powerful tool and one of the cornerstones of our democracy. Our partners at Education Voters PA estimate that it only takes 8-10 phone calls in a day to really get the attention of a legislator to let them know their constituents are passionate about an issue. Next to voting, talking to our local state representatives is the most direct and effective way to participate in the decisions our government makes — and because so few people take the opportunity, those who do actually have quite a chance to have their voices heard.
So speak up on Monday! And spread the word through your networks — especially to your friends and colleagues living outside the city of Pittsburgh. It’s time for Yinzer Nation to pick up the phone. Talk n’at.
Across Pennsylvania, people are wondering.
Why is my school district packing children into overcrowded classrooms? Cutting programs that work? Raising my property taxes?
There’s a simple “because” to all of these questions.
It is because state funding to the public schools was cut by $860 million this year. And, if Gov. Tom Corbett’s proposed state budget passes, funding will be cut by another $100 million next year.
There is a crisis in our public schools — and it is because of these unprecedented state funding cuts. Our children lose opportunities to learn when programs that work get cut.
Programs get cut when there aren’t resources to pay for them. Class sizes increase when state funding runs out. Our local property taxes go up when the governor refuses to dedicate state revenues to fund the public schools.
All of these things have happened because of nearly $1 billion in funding cuts to the public schools.
For nearly a year, Pennsylvanians have heard the governor claim that the state hasn’t cut funding. It’s a shocking argument that flies in the face of reality.
The governor has said that he has increased school funding. School boards, parents and taxpayers in our communities don’t see it that way. In fact, they know it’s not so.
The facts are the facts. You can see them for yourself at www.psea.org/schoolcuts.
The consequences of these cuts are dire. Already, 70 percent of our school districts have increased class sizes, 44 percent have reduced course offerings, and 35 percent have reduced or eliminated tutoring programs.
The consequences for our students have been severe and are getting worse.
Since Gov. Corbett came to office, his school funding cuts have eliminated a long list of programs that have been working in the public schools for nearly a decade.
The charter school reimbursement program, which helped school districts cover the exploding costs of charter and cyber charter schools? Eliminated.
The education assistance tutoring program, which funded tutoring opportunities for students who need help learning? Gone.
The accountability block grant program, which paid for full-day kindergarten programs, pre-kindergarten and class size reduction initiatives in every school district in Pennsylvania?
The governor cut it to the bone last year. This year, he plans to shut it down entirely.
The names of these programs may be unfamiliar to many Pennsylvanians. But educators, parents and students have seen their benefits — and they have felt the consequences when these programs have disappeared due to the governor’s budget cuts.
So, what can we do about it?
As Pennsylvanians, we can remind the governor and the General Assembly that state government has the constitutional and moral responsibility to fund the public schools.
The fundamental question is this: Are we going to invest in our public schools and the students who learn in them? Or are we going to allow the governor to keep cutting education funding and blame educators and parents for the consequences?
We need to invest in our public schools. It can be done. It is not impossible. How can we do it?
Enact modest increases in state taxes on corporations. Close loopholes that allow Pennsylvania companies to avoid Pennsylvania taxes by incorporating out of state. Find ways to bring state revenues from natural gas drillers into the state’s general fund.
These are commonsense solutions to the school funding crisis. They shouldn’t be taken off the table just because the governor and some legislators signed a “no tax increase” pledge to win the support of a Washington, D.C., lobbyist.
Our public school students are counting on us to find a solution and stop this crisis.
In the future, when they ask, “Why did lawmakers stop cutting public school funding?” we need to be able to give them a simple “because”: Because it was the right thing to do.