This is how you make progress. One step at a time. Last week, we saw two steps forward, and one giant step back for public education. The good news first:
On Thursday, Governor Corbett signed a much-needed new law that will help to fix the state’s special education funding formula. Sponsored by Republicans Rep. Bernie O’Neill and Sen. Pat Browne with strong bi-partisan support in both the House and Senate, House Bill 2 creates a new commission that will develop a formula taking into account actual numbers of special education students and their needs. Rhonda Brownstein, Executive Director of the Education Law Center, called the legislation “historic.” [Education Law Center, 4-26-13]
The Education Policy and Leadership Center explains, “The current formula assumes that the average daily enrollment of each district includes 16% of students with special needs. A new formula will aim to reflect actual costs incurred by districts and distribute the money accordingly.” The new commission will also make sure that school districts don’t over-identify the number of eligible students, and will take into account geographic variations in costs. The commission must make its report by September, and any formula they develop will not go into effect unless the General Assembly acts on it – and even then, the formula will only apply to the distribution of any increased funding. [EPLC, 4-26-13]
In another step forward, the House Education Committee last week held a public hearing on bullying and suicide prevention. [EPLC, 4-26-13] This is a significant issue that needs to be addressed as part of a larger conversation about school climate issues, with a particular focus on equity.
But just as we saw these forward steps, the House took a giant step back, approving a suite of corporate tax cuts proposed by Governor Corbett. Once in place, the tax breaks will cost us taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars – that’s hundreds of millions in lost revenue for the state and money that won’t be available to fund our public goods, including schools. While these tax cuts are defended by the Governor as necessary for creating future revenues, according to the EPLC some estimate “that there will only be $1 dollar of new revenue generated for every $7 of tax cuts for some businesses.” [EPLC, 4-26-13]
Speaking of revenue, the state took in slightly less than they projected in March, but the Pennsylvania School Funding Campaign tells us that overall, “for the year total revenues remain slightly ahead of what was projected for the first nine months.” We haven’t heard much from legislators about the budget because, “Most lawmakers are anxiously awaiting the end-of-April report before deciding to move forward with legislative budget proposals.” [PA School Funding Campaign, 4-22-13]
The school funding campaign – a coalition of 30 education groups – will be holding a press conference in the capitol rotunda tomorrow morning at 10AM, telling legislators and Governor Corbett that they need to prioritize funding for public education. The proposed plan addresses the nearly $1billion cut in 2011 (and locked in again in 2012), by restoring $270 million each of the next three years. Now that would be a huge step forward.