It’s Not an Image Problem

We’re making him squirm. The Governor has been taking it on the chin this week from people in every corner of the state fed up with his devastation of public education. Yesterday he announced a major shakeup in his office with the departure of his chief of staff, William F. Ward. Apparently a small group of Republican heavyweights, known as the Governor’s “kitchen cabinet,” have become worried that Corbett has a “growing image problem.” [Philadelphia Inquirer, 5-24-12]

Actually, what he has is an ideological problem. Governor Corbett stubbornly sticks to a “no new taxes” mantra, while slashing essential public services and refusing to consider alternative revenue sources – even those that would not require a dime in new taxes. Take for example, the $86 million in overpayments our school districts have been forced to make to cyber charter schools: those dollars alone would go a long way towards plugging the hole in the block grant program that Corbett wants to cut, which will eliminate full-day Kindergarten in many places. [“Trouble Seeing the Money”]

Corbett’s proposed budget is an ideological budget, aimed at privatizing many of our public goods – especially public education – under the guise of austerity. Pennsylvania isn’t buying it, leaving the governor’s top advisors worried that “the administration [has] not effectively sold Corbett’s agenda to the public, and that the governor [has] paid a price in popularity.” [Philadelphia Inquirer, 5-25-12] No kidding.

The poor man can’t even get his story straight. Gov. Corbett repeatedly claims on the one hand that school districts must make severe cuts now that federal stimulus money is gone, even spending their emergency reserve accounts to pay for core educational programs. On the other hand, he loves to claim that he has increased state spending, by slyly referring to the Basic Education line item in the budget – which has gone up, while the overall budget has been drastically slashed. Pennsylvanians can see right through this doublespeak.

Perhaps the Governor’s kitchen cabinet ought to show him the new report out this week from the PA Association of School Administrators and the PA Association of School Business Officials. This study concluded, “School districts are being forced to cut deeper into instructional programs that will hurt student-learning opportunities and create fear that nearly half of districts surveyed will be in financial distress within three years if state and local funding does not improve.” [PASA/PASBO May 2012] The survey of Pennsylvania school districts found that:

  • 60% will increase class sizes again
  • 58% will face reduced instruction in art and music, reduced physical education classes, fewer elective course offerings and advanced placement course offerings
  • 49% are delaying textbook purchases
  • 46% are trimming or eliminating extra-curricular programs, including sports and field trips
  • 37% are cutting tutoring programs
  • 34% are eliminating summer school
  • 19% will eliminate full-day Kindergarten
  • 75% will furlough or not fill vacancies in their district; more than 50% have a wage freeze in place now (an increase from 16% last year)

I don’t need a kitchen cabinet to tell me that we have a real crisis in public education. And it’s not an image problem, it’s a funding problem.

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