Former Superintendent GUEST COLUMN: Corbett’s Budget a Disaster for PA

Times Guest Columnist

(June 5th) Let the record show that Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett’s short budgetary “reign of terror” will have slashed instructional subsidy funding to public education across Pennsylvania by just under $1 billion over two years. Ironically, Pennsylvania percentage share of funding public schools statewide already ranks somewhere around 45th among the 50 states in terms of percentage of state funding for public education.

Many school districts are struggling with the state’s inadequate funding including the Upper Darby School District. Unfortunately, Upper Darby’s leadership, under intense financial and political pressure, has now approved a “tentative” proposal to cut music, art, physical education and library in its elementary schools as its highly questionable solution.

Aside from the fact that this plan has the potential to destroy some “gemstone” programs of the Upper Darby School District, it is a dangerous policy for any school district’s administration and school board to become compliant hostages to an imperial governor. This will open Pandora’s Box for even more educational cuts and reductions into the future. Upper Darby’s children, who have no voice in this adult fiasco, stand to be the big-time losers here for many years into the future.

The Education Law Center has cited Gov. Corbett’s sad record to date on public education: “The governor’s budget in 2011-12 and his proposal for 2012-13 appear to return Pennsylvania to the irresponsible practices of the past, when education funding was distributed each year based on politics instead of objective, data-based formulas. As a result of these bad practices, the state share of all funding for public education in Pennsylvania fell from 55 percent in 1975 to 37 percent in 2011. Many communities were not able to make up the difference … The inevitable results are seen in the current crisis involving fiscally and academically distressed school districts.”

Thomas Gentzel, the executive director of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, has summarized the state’s inadequate funding to public education as follows: “Public education is a birthright in Pennsylvania; it is not simply another category of expenditure. Maintaining and supporting a ‘thorough and efficient system’ of public education is the single most important constitutional obligation of the commonwealth. On this point, the Pennsylvania Constitution is abundantly clear. Said another way, proper funding for public schools should be the top priority of state government.”

The Education Policy and Leadership Center has described the Corbett budget debacles as follows: “If the budget is approved by the Legislature as proposed by the governor, the devastating effects of the recent budget will continue, local taxpayers will be asked to shoulder more school funding responsibility, and our children will have fewer learning opportunities.”

In a recently released survey of Pennsylvania’s School Districts conducted by the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators and the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, just during 2011-2012, 50 percent of Pennsylvania school districts have cut instructional programs, 70 percent have increased class sizes, 44 percent have cut programs in elective areas such as foreign language, art, music, and physical education, 41 percent have delayed purchases of textbooks, and 58 percent have backed away for computer purchases. Additionally, 8,365 school positions have been eliminated statewide.

Diane Ravitch, one of America’s top educational historians, has issued this alarm which has great pertinence to the crisis in the Upper Darby School District. The American educational system is on a dangerous trajectory, with students reduced to test takers and school programs being given away for business reasons rather than what’s best for children.

Gov. Corbett’s blatant betrayal of the commonwealth’s school children is creating a disaster across the state that is unworthy of someone elected to lead Pennsylvania forward, not backward.

Joseph P. Batory of Philadelphia, a recipient of the American Association of School Administrators’ Lifetime Distinguished Service Award, is a retired Upper Darby School District superintendent.

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