Could someone fetch Rep. Daryl Metcalfe back from outer space? Earlier this week, the Cranberry Republican co-sponsored a bill in the state house to send the proceeds of liquor store privatization to infrastructure improvements, rather than to education, as Gov. Corbett had initially proposed. [See “Kids or Booze”] Pennsylvania certainly needs to support all of its public goods – including infrastructure – but what is appalling about Rep. Metcalfe’s bill is that it rests on a shameful disregard for public education.
At a news conference with several other Republican legislators, Rep. Metcalfe complained, “When you give the money to the education establishment like this, it’s like throwing it into a black hole.” Wow. This man thinks our children’s future is a black hole. He calls our schools “the education establishment” as if our kids are somehow the problem. Of course, what he really means is that our teachers are somehow the problem, as he makes clear in his next sentence: “All it will be used for is to drive those salaries up that are continuing to be one of the main drivers for our pension problem.” [Post-Gazette, 4-16-13]
Actually, we do have a pension problem – but the blame for that lies heavily with Pennsylvania legislators themselves who have kicked the can down the road to this point. [See our “Pension History 101” for an easy to read explanation of this important issue.] Rep. Metcalfe suggests that providing desperately needed funding to our schools will “drive those salaries up” – does he mean that districts will turn around and give raises to teachers? Highly unlikely when most schools are now struggling to even buy textbooks or chalk. Perhaps he is worried that school districts will hire back some of the 20,000 teachers our children have lost these past two years? Heaven forbid our kids get their art and music teachers back in their classrooms. Or that we will ever see full-time librarians again.
Perhaps Rep. Metcalfe needs to actually talk to the families he represents, where kids are now missing over $6 MILLION from their schools. Here’s a breakdown of the cuts since 2010-2011 to the five school districts in his 12th PA congressional district. [Data from Save Pennsylvania Schools]
|Butler Area School District||$2,723,093|
|Freeport Area School District||$728,596|
|Mars Area School District||$514,272|
|Seneca Valley School District||$1,270,871|
|South Butler County School District||$1,011,179|
One of those districts, Seneca Valley, was trying to figure out how to keep its Junior ROTC program alive last year with all the budget cuts – a program you might think a former Army man like Daryl Metcalfe would appreciate. At the time, Seneca Valley was also discussing “closing the pool and cutting the swim program, reducing Title I reading programs or further reduction of elementary school staff.” At that point, the superintendent warned that, “elementary class sizes already are larger than best practice recommendations.” [Post-Gazette, 4-12-13] The district wound up being forced to cut 14 positions – 11 of them teachers, including “one art teacher, two math teachers, one social studies teacher, two science teachers, two English teachers, a Spanish teacher and two health/physical education teachers.” [Post-Gazette, 4-17-12] Yes, this is the “education establishment” that Rep. Metcalfe is so worried about. To him, social studies, science, and English teachers are black holes. Or perhaps dark matter.
How does he explain his outer space theory to his representatives in the Mars Area School District, which debated cutting all art, music and physical education in its elementary schools last year? The district wound up having to cut its Kindergarten and first grade art teacher, cut back on art classes at the High School level to four days per week, eliminated two guidance counselors and two technology teachers, and did not replace four retiring teachers, “two in art, one in health and one in foreign languages.” [Post-Gazette, 5-10-12] It looks like art got sucked into a gravitational budget hole in Mars.
Last spring, students in Mars stood on the sidewalk holding signs imploring board members to “Save Our Specials.” Perhaps they could help us tell Rep. Metcalfe that their education is not a black hole but rather a bright shining star. It’s time to go super nova on Rep. Metcalfe and his fellow Pennsylvania legislators and demand real pension reform that protects taxpayers, teachers, and our schools. And we must insist on adequate, equitable, and sustainable public funding for public education – so that we are nurturing the astrophysicists of tomorrow who will study the real black holes.