Problem solved! Apparently, Rep. Jim Christiana, a Republican from our neck of the woods over in Beaver County, believes we have an extra $200 million lying around for schools. That’s perfect, since the Post-Gazette is reporting today that the governor’s office and Republican leaders in the Senate and House have negotiated their different budgets down to just about that figure: “the two sides appear to be about $233 million apart in how much money they believe the state should have left over at the end of next fiscal year.” [Post-Gazette, 6-12-12]
Ah, but wait – Rep. Christiana wants to give those public tax-dollars to private schools under a new scheme that he may introduce today in the House. Seriously? We can’t find enough money for the block grant program that lets school districts all across Pennsylvania fund Kindergarten, but he wants to talk about taking more money out of our state coffers for private and parochial schools?
We already have this ill-advised program in place with the poorly named Educational Improvement Tax Credit, or EITC. (See why we say “EITC: No Credit to PA” when we let $75 million walk out the front door every year.) Now Rep. Christiana and his colleagues propose adding a similar program, so that we give away an additional $100 million next year, rising to $200 million by its third year. [You can read the full text of his co-sponsorship memo at the Morning Call, 6-11-12.]
If we have $200 million available to hand out to businesses, why aren’t we spending that money up front on critical educational needs, rather than cutting Kindergarten, librarians, and tutoring? Pennsylvania school districts were forced to lay off over 14,000 teachers last year with many more furloughs coming this year. [“No More Teachers, No More Books”] These aren’t just good jobs – these are the people in the classrooms with our children every day, shaping our very future.
Kudos to House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, a representative from northern Allegheny County, whose office warned “the details of this latest try for a voucher program must be reviewed carefully.” He summed it up nicely: “The core problem in Pennsylvania schools is inadequate funding made worse by Gov. Corbett’s historic and tragic education cuts. No taxpayer-funded voucher experiment will help that, even one like this that’s limited to only a few schools. It will just make things worse for the great majority of students who get no help.” [Morning Call, 6-11-12]
We can’t allow the Governor and his allies to continue labeling our entire public education system as a failure, and then decimate it by cutting over $1 BILLION in funding to make sure that it really does fail so we can take our public dollars and send them to private institutions. Make no mistake, this is exactly the strategy now in play. As we reported last week, the ultra-conservative Koch brother funded superPAC FreedomWorks has rolled back into Pennsylvania using the language of “failure” in nasty radio ads aimed at pressuring the governor to get a voucher bill passed in the next three weeks. (See “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.”)
That superPAC has two out-of-state lobbyists, Ana Puig and Anastasia Przbylski, sitting in Harrisburg right now turning up the heat on our legislators. About Rep. Christiana’s proposed voucher bill, Puig said, “It’s a start. We have to do something before this [budget] cycle is over to give opportunities to kids in the failing schools.” She made it clear that they are looking to expand vouchers well beyond these EITC type programs, and said, “We have a small window of opportunity.” [Morning Call, 6-11-12]
That might be the best news we get: these billionaire backers of school privatization see the next couple of weeks as their window of opportunity to ram more vouchers through the Pennsylvania legislature. We need to keep that window shut tight. Take a minute to call Rep. Christiana’s office and tell him that we need public funding for public schools:
(724) 728-7655 or (717) 260-6144
And if you know anyone in his district, please ask them to do the same. Christiana represents the following areas of Beaver County, which has lost over $13.5 MILLION in education cuts to its schools these past two years:
If Rep. Christiana really thinks Pennsylvania taxpayers can afford an extra $200 million for this plan, let’s insist that we use those public dollars to address the real funding crisis in our schools caused by Governor Corbett’s historic education cuts. Then we can open real windows of opportunity for all our children.