Word from Harrisburg is that the Governor and his allies are trying to get the budget passed in the next couple of weeks. While having an “on-time” budget (delivered before the end of June) is necessary and admirable, negotiation time is just about the only bargaining tactic opponents of draconian budget cuts still have. In other words, our legislators who support education – and public funding for public goods in general – are in the minority: the longer they can hold out and keep the budget discussion going, the more leverage they will have over getting funds put back into things like public education. Politics is lovely, eh?
But with a final budget decision likely to arrive in just a few weeks, our timeframe for affecting the outcome has narrowed: this week is absolutely critical! The Pennsylvania School Funding Campaign – a statewide coalition of thirty groups concerned with public funding for public education – has named this Education Funding Advocacy Week. With events planned all over the state, here is how you can get involved in Southwest Pennsylvania:
- Monday, May 21 (TODAY): a group will be dropping off piles of letters from children at the Governor’s Pittsburgh office this afternoon. To participate, please contact Jodi Hirsch <firstname.lastname@example.org>
- Tuesday, May 22: We are teaming with the PIIN Task Force on Education to fill a bus to Harrisburg for a Rally on the Capitol Steps. The group will also be meeting with legislators. The bus will leave at 7:30AM and will return in time for dinner. Contact Kathy Newman <email@example.com> for more information and to reserve your seat on the bus!
- Wednesday, May 23: Statewide call-your-legislators day. Take five minutes to tell the Governor and your legislators that we must have adequate, equitable, and sustainable state funding for public education. Use this handy on-line tool to look up your state representative and senator and their contact information. Governor Corbett’s office is: (717) 787-2500. You can also use this Call-in-Day Q&A sheet created by parents at Pittsburgh Colfax as a guide.
Need some more motivation? Consider the news from Allentown, which joins a long list of Pennsylvania school districts crippled by state budget cuts. Last week the Allentown school board announced, “The sky is falling.” Without adequate support from the state, that district will be cutting full day Kindergarten, laying off teachers, and raising local taxes by 4.8 percent next year. But “that’s nothing compared to what could be facing taxpayers, staff and students” in three years when the district’s reserve account will run dry. At that point, Allentown will have a $6.5 million deficit that is projected to grow 515 percent to $40 million five years from now. [The Morning Call, 5-18-12]
Those reserve accounts are what Gov. Corbett accused school districts last week of secretly hoarding. (See “Insane, Irrational, Irresponsible.”) The state actually recommends that districts keep 5-8% of their operating budgets in reserve for emergency expenses and Allentown has a solid track record in this regard. But the district already plans to tap into its reserves to cover regular operating expenses, and the account will not last long. Allentown’s chief financial officer, Trevor Jackson, said, “We are two years away from Chester Upland and Reading,” invoking the specter of the state’s poster children for fiscally distressed districts. [The Morning Call, 5-18-12]
Our legislators are the only ones who can stop this craziness. And this is the week to reach them to let them know the sky really is falling on our public schools. What will you do?