Governor Corbett has a “record of success” on education? Are you kidding me? I’m not sure what planet GOP spokeswoman Valerie Caras lives on, but she just said exactly this while boasting that the Governor actually increased state funding for our schools. Here on Earth in the state of Pennsylvania, where 89% of all our children attend public schools, we can tell you that Governor Corbett cut nearly $1 BILLION from education last year – and then carried those cuts forward into this year’s budget as well. The heartbreaking consequences of those cuts point to anything but a record of success.
The spokeswoman was responding to the announcement yesterday by the first Democratic contender for the 2014 governor’s race. Throwing his hat into what promises to become a crowded ring, Harrisburg lawyer John Hanger put public education at the very top of his candidacy launch statement, vowing to restore Corbett’s historic budget cuts and going on record opposing vouchers. He said he would “make education the first priority for state funding; not the last,” and pledged to “honor and encourage Pennsylvania’s teachers, for an excellent education begins with excellent teachers and with the amount of time spent learning.” He noted that, “Verbally beating and attacking teachers is now common in some quarters and is incredibly destructive to attracting top talent to teaching and improving education.” [Hanger Launch Statement, 11-28-12]
Looks like Governor Corbett will be feeling the heat on education in the run up to the next election. If Hanger’s announcement is any sign, the issues raised by our grassroots movement have gotten noticed by his Democratic opponents. It will be our job to keep all of the candidates talking about the draconian state budget cuts and their impact on our schools. Hanger’s comments about the importance of our teachers is a good start: we have lost almost 20,000 educators in the past two years since these cuts took effect. [See “Cuts Have Consequences.”]
That fact alone should make spokeswoman Caras’ statement on Pennsylvania jobs stick in our craw: she explained that Corbett would be running on his “pro-jobs, pro-growth record that has helped to create over 100,000 private sector jobs.” [The Patriot News, 11-28-12] I’m not sure how he is doing his math, but any way you count, our kids are missing 20,000 of their teachers. And here in Pittsburgh alone, we are missing hundreds of good jobs.
We are apparently also going to see more of that tired old claim that Governor Corbett “increased the state portion of education spending to its highest levels.” [The Patriot News, 11-28-12] This is wordsmithing and obfuscation at its best – and is clearly the tactic we can expect the governor’s advocates to take in the face of reality. Let’s remember that this year’s overall education budget was actually flat funded: the legislature “level funded” K-12 schools, essentially providing the same as last year’s budget. Flat funding effectively locked in the devastating $1 billion cuts the legislature made in 2011. And due to natural inflation, flat funding really means less funding, since school district costs for everything from electricity to toilet paper continue to go up.
But the Governor and his allies are not simply saying that they held funding level, they are claiming that they increased “the state portion” of spending to its highest levels. We heard a lot of this back in the spring leading up to the budget showdown. For instance, in May Corbett’s spokesman, Kevin Harley, tried this trick, claiming that the governor had “added more” to Basic Education and that “Pennsylvania taxpayers now pay more toward Basic Education than at any time in the state’s history.” [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 5-23-12] What Corbett did was collapse several line items into one, while eliminating others, so that the “basic education” line item appeared larger, while overall funding for K-12 schools was slashed. [See “Dishonesty Disguised as Generosity” for details.] In a rare moment of full disclosure, even Corbett himself admitted the truth back in February, saying, “We reduced education funding if you look at it as a whole. … and if you listen to my words, I always talk about the basic education funding formula [also referred to as the basic education subsidy].” [Capitolwire, 2-9-2012 (subscription service); for reference, see PADems 2-10-12]
What’s more, spokeswoman Caras claims that the state is now spending more (the “state portion”) than ever before. I can’t imagine what she means. Governor Corbett actually spent $372 million less last year on public preK-12 education than the state spent before it even started using federal stimulus money back in 2008-2009 to help plug holes in the education budget. [See “The Truth About the Numbers.”] And Pennsylvania still ranks in the bottom ten of all states in this country in the proportion of funding provided by the state, essentially pushing responsibility for school funding down on local communities which are forced to raise property taxes. [See “A New Mantra.”] This is the most inequitable way to fund education and the root of many of our problems.
We should be incensed that Governor Corbett or any spokesperson dares to claim that education funding has increased. A quick look at our schools tells the real story, as our students are without beloved teachers and librarians, and are now missing arts education, language, science, gifted and special education programs, tutoring, summer school, Kindergarten, sports, transportation, and more. That is Corbett’s real record.
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