Corbett’s Budget Will “Turn the Screws” on Pennsylvania Schools

Take Action – Join Working America in telling Gov. Corbett to fully fund public education in Pennsylvania.

“Dramatic and difficult.” “Pain.” “Tough times.” “Turn the screws even tighter.”

That’s just a sampling of the language being used to describe Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett’s proposed budget, which will be unveiled tomorrow early afternoon.

Last year, Corbett cut almost $900 million from the state education budget, a decision that caused well-publicized pain for the Chester Upland School District. The unionized teachers of that district, which relies on state aid for 70 percent of its budget, made the decision to work without pay, until finally a judge ordered the state to fund the Chester schools through February 23.

The silver lining is that the Chester Upland fiasco shone a bright light on the way schools were getting funded in Pennsylvania. Sarah Ferguson, one of the district’s elementary school teachers, sat with Michelle Obama at the State of the Union earlier this month. Last week, Ferguson was a guest on the Ellen Degeneres Show, where she received a check for $100,000 for the Chester Upland School District from JC Penney.

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But all of that exposure means nothing if Governor Corbett doesn’t restore any funding to struggling schools. And from all the signals he’s sending, it appears that Corbett will stay the course and continue his efforts to defund public education in Pennsylvania, while keeping the oil drillers and others from feeling any pain.

Let’s be clear: this isn’t a problem with one school district. Chester, where the median household income is about $26,000, was just the canary in the coal mine. Six other school districts will be in similarly dire straits within the year if the slashes remain. School districts in Philadelphia, Harrisburg, Allentown, Duquese, York City, Reading, and even the relatively wealthy Poconos are reported to have similar budget predicaments.

Corbett’s belt-tightening act may work wonders with the Tea Party crowd, but they have real, disastrous consequences for Pennsylvania’s future. 70 percent of all state school districts have increased class sizes, according the PSEA President Mike Crossey. All the programs that have been proven to raise student achievement: tutoring, art, music, full-day kindergarten, and after-school programs all “took the biggest hit” with last year’s budget.

The New York Times quoted Chester Upland’s acting deputy superintendent as saying: “Poor schools in this state are underfunded…Poor kids aren’t going to get the same shot as wealthy kids. That’s the society we are in now.”

One-time gifts from Ellen Degeneres and JC Penney are great, but they are not policy. Corbett seems to think that Pennsylvania can have a bright future with crowded classrooms, fewer teachers, fewer extracurricular programs, and the lightest possibly tax burden for oil drillers and the already-super-wealthy. But that’s just simply not the case. Corbett needs to reverse course with this new budget, before it’s too late.

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