PSFC Issues Press Release on State Education Budget

STATE EDUCATION BUDGET MAKES SEVERE CUTS IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS

The hardship in state budget will fall on children and local property taxpayers, especially in the highest poverty school districts

HARRISBURG—(June 30, 2011)—The Pennsylvania School Funding Campaign (PSFC) expressed dismay today over the final $27.15 billion budget for fiscal year 2011-12. The budget includes cuts of nearly $930 million for public education and significantly hurts children and their opportunities for academic achievement, although it restores about $254 million to the Governor’s original budget proposal.

The budget adopted today restores some funding to the Governor’s proposals for the basic education subsidy and accountability block grants.  But the budget still slashes hundreds of millions of dollars from those programs and completely eliminates funding for tutoring services for students who are struggling, high school reform, college tuition for high school students, the state’s largest science education program, and reimbursement of school district charter school costs.

“Although the legislature has voted to restore some of Governor Corbett’s original $1.1 billion in funding cuts to public schools, it is important to remember that a significant cut to education remains.  Many children will struggle as a result,” said Ron Cowell, president of The Education Policy and Leadership Center and PSFC spokesman.  PSFC comprises over 30 statewide and regional education and advocacy organizations.

“These cuts threaten to halt and even reverse the strong improvements in academic achievement we have seen in the last several years.  In the fall, our children will return to school facing larger class sizes, fewer full-day kindergarten opportunities, less tutoring, and fewer elective courses in high school,” Cowell added.

Despite the state’s more than half billion dollar surplus this year and a like amount expected next year, many of the state’s school districts, particularly the poorest ones, must resort to drastic measures to absorb cuts in state aid.  These include raising local taxes, cutting instructional programs, laying off teachers and other staff, closing buildings and, in some cases, even considering a four-day school week.

“With a state revenue surplus already above a half billion dollars, the state should be funding K-12 education at levels that will continue the academic progress of every student,” said Jim Buckheit, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators.  “A reduced investment in public education will affect the future of the entire state for years to come. A strong education system is required to prepare an educated, skilled workforce and to prevent social ills in the future.”

“We know how to ensure that all children achieve at high levels,” said Beth Olanoff, executive director of the Pennsylvania League of Urban Schools.  “The improvements in academic achievement of Pennsylvania students over the past eight years prove that.  Those who say that investment in education doesn’t matter are fooling themselves.”  Olanoff noted that in the past several years student proficiency has increased from 57.6 percent to 76.3 percent in math and from 65.6 percent to 72.0 percent in reading.  She stressed that these improvements were distributed across all grade levels and student groups.

The budget abandons a funding formula established by the General Assembly three years ago.  During that time, the formula has begun to provide adequate funding for students in the lowest-spending districts.  Students supported by adequate funding perform better on state tests than those with insufficient resources.

“This year’s education budget cuts represent a horrible precedent—setting our investment in schools backwards,” said Joe Bard, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools.  “They will damage our children’s education in the fall and severely weaken it for years to come if the funding is not fully restored in next year’s budget.”

In addition to the harmful impact on the academic success of Pennsylvania children, the budget will increase school district dependency on local property taxes to support schools.  Pennsylvania homeowners already pay relatively high property taxes because state government contributes a smaller share of education costs than almost all other states.  This local tax burden disproportionately affects children and taxpayers in the poorest school districts.

“The bottom line is that our children – all of our children – are Pennsylvania’s future.  To skimp on our investment in their education is to shortchange their prospects for success and our own as citizens of the state,” said Olanoff.  “That is short-sighted, irresponsible, and misguided public policy.”

CONTACT: Ron Cowell, PSFC, 412.298.4796

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