Back to Work

Our legislators are headed back to Harrisburg today to get to work on the budget. Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R-Delaware) said that he would like “to finish in mid-June, not wait until the last hour of the last day.” [Post-Gazette, 4-30-12] That means we have about six more weeks in this budget negotiation process to make sure our legislators restore funding to public education.

With new revenue projections due out this week – and expected to be higher than previous projections – lawmakers will have more money to work with. The Post-Gazette is reporting today that, “Any additional funds received above what was expected in February, when the governor introduced his budget, likely will be directed first toward education.” Legislators have been getting an earful from higher-ed advocates, and even Republicans are making favorable noises about restoring some of the draconian cuts proposed to the University of Pittsburgh, Penn State and the 14 state-owned public colleges and universities.

They have also been hearing from early childhood education advocates furious about the proposed elimination of the Accountability Block Grant used to fund Kindergarten programs in many school districts. The same Post-Gazette article suggests that these funds may be “on the restoration list.” Don’t forget the Rally in Harrisburg tomorrow, organized by our friends at the Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children (PAEYC), designed to keep the heat on this crucial piece of education funding.

In addition to negotiating the budget, the legislature will be considering several bills affecting public education. These include a bill that would change how charter schools are funded – a key issue for school districts struggling to close huge budget gaps at the same time the state cut charter school reimbursements. As we noted before, some districts run their own charter schools, especially cyber charter schools, for far less than they are forced to pay private companies to do the same. [“Soaking the Public”] The state simply must ensure that we have an equitable funding formula for charter schools.

The legislature will also be considering a change to the state school code that would permit school districts to use factors, such as performance evaluations, in addition to seniority when furloughing teachers. This is becoming a hot topic here in Pittsburgh where 450 teachers just received pink slips based entirely on seniority. To keep great teachers in the classroom, the district and the union are going to have to work together on this issue. The consequences of these devastating state budget cuts are layoffs and we must protect our best teachers. Gov. Corbett actually tried to pass legislation last year on this issue: he failed to get enough support, but there are bills in front of both the state Senate and House that could help. [Post-Gazette, 4-26-12]

There is much more to be said about this subject and we will need to have a deep and thoughtful conversation about it in our community. But this much is clear: there is a direct connection between the state budget cuts and the loss of some of our best teachers. As the heads of three major foundations wrote in an Op-Ed piece yesterday: “As a result of cuts in funding for urban schools such as Pittsburgh’s — cuts so deep that the very bones of education bear the knife marks — our district will soon say goodbye to hundreds of teachers without so much as a glance at the data, at whether these teachers have been deemed ‘highly effective.’” They added, “For parents, teachers and administrators, the combined effects of the funding cuts and antiquated laws regarding furloughs are potentially devastating,” with some schools such as Pittsburgh Faison losing 40% of their teachers. [Post-Gazette, 4-29-12] To learn more about this issue, please join A+ Schools Executive Director, Carey Harris, next Monday, May 7th, for a conversation. We will meet at 7PM at Rodef Shalom (on Fifth Ave. in Oakland).

Meanwhile, as our legislators return to work today, it’s also back to work for us. What can you do these next six weeks?


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