It’s simple really. The Pennsylvania Constitution has two short clauses relating to the funding of our public schools. Here they are in their entirety:

Article III, Section 14: Public School System
The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of the Commonwealth.

Article III, Section 15: Public School Money Not Available to Sectarian Schools
No money raised for the support of the public schools of the Commonwealth shall be appropriated to or used for the support of any sectarian school.

Thorough – as in comprehensive and not leaving anything out. I also like these synonyms: methodical, meticulous, scrupulous, and exhaustive. Yes, we want our public schools to reach everyone, not leave out any students, and to provide a complete education.

Efficient – as in well-organized, effective and not wasteful. We want all of these things, too.

The General Assembly has a legal obligation to pay for public education (that’s the “shall provide” part). But our schools are staggering under Governor Corbett’s $1 BILLION cut in “maintenance and support.” Our schools can no longer be thorough or efficient when they are forced to eliminate Kindergarten, librarians, tutoring, math and reading programs, music, art, physical education, special education, gifted education, and more.

Our students cannot receive a thorough or efficient education when their teachers are being laid off in droves. Pennsylvania lost over 14,000 educators last year and will lose thousands more this year. (See “No More Teachers, No More Books.”)

Today is the last day of school for students in the city of Pittsburgh. When the final bell rings, they will be saying goodbye to 285 of their teachers who received furlough notices and will not be returning in the fall. This is an outrageous situation, and our legislators need to understand exactly what is at stake as they enter the final negotiations on our state budget. So here is one last thing we can do:

Join us today, Wednesday June 13th, 6 – 7 pm, for a candlelight vigil outside the Board of Education building (341 S. Bellefield Ave. in Oakland, parking in Schenley Plaza). We will light 285 candles to represent the educators we are losing as a result of the devastating state budget cuts. We want to show our legislators, the school board, and the teachers that they will be missed. National Book Award winning poet Terrance Hayes will be our featured speaker. Please RSVP on our Facebook site.

The whole thing will take just one hour. It will be short, moving, good for the kids to participate in, will grab the media’s attention, send a strong message to our legislators, and you’ll be home in time for supper. It’s simple really.

The Old Divide and Conquer Tactic

“We are reducing the funding in education because we do not have the money — it’s that simple,” Governor Corbett said Monday. He was speaking about the cuts to public higher education, but he could have just as easily been speaking about the draconian cuts to pre-K and K-12.

We’ve heard precious little about the state education budget crisis from Governor Corbett himself. Secretary of Education Ron Tomalis and others have been quoted frequently of late trying to explain how, in their view, the $1 BILLION reduction to public schools has actually been an increase. (To which we say, “Enough with the Spreadsheet Debates.”) But now Gov. Corbett appears to be trying a new (very old) tactic: divide and conquer.

Saying the state simply doesn’t have the money, he asked, “Where would you have me take it from? Would you have me take it from social services? Would you have me take it from law enforcement or from the functions of government?” (Post-Gazette, 3-13-12) Pitting social services against public education, Gov. Corbett suggests that we can have one, but not both – when the proposed budget, in fact, cuts both to the very bone. This is not about choosing one over the other, this is about revenue priorities that put corporations before children.

Governor Corbett asks incredulously if we should find education money by taking funding away “from the functions of government.” I would like to remind him that funding public education is a function of government. In fact, it is the only service mandated by the Pennsylvania Constitution, which says specifically that it is the state’s responsibility to “provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of the Commonwealth.” (Article 3, Section 14)

It’s time for the Governor to stop saying, “we don’t have the money,” and start asking, “where can we find the revenue?” Here are some suggestions we’ve been hearing from the people of Southwest PA:

  • Close the Delaware Loophole: costs our state $500 million in missed tax revenue every year and more than 20 other states have already closed this loophole.
  • Impose a severance tax on Marcellus shale: most states with major mineral resources like ours have a severance tax and not having one has cost Pennsylvania over $314 million since October 2009 alone.
  • Get rid of the new bonus depreciation rule: The state itself estimates that more than half of the current budget gap is due to a huge shortfall in corporate tax revenues – to the tune of $260 million. (Read more in “We Have a Priority Problem.”)
  • Keep the capital stock and franchise tax: Corbett wants to eliminate these as a gift to corporations, costing the state $200 million in revenue every year.
  • Eliminate sales tax exemptions: helicopters and gold bullion top the list of hard-to-swallow exemptions.