The Op-Ed below was submitted to the Times Herald on June 18, 2012.
Governor’s Education Budget Thwarts Future Success
The proposed education budget on the table in Harrisburg means continuing trouble for public school systems across the county and the state. If the current plan, with an additional $100 million in cuts is passed, Norristown School District alone would face a nearly $3.4 million decline in funding levels from just two years ago. Statewide, the almost $1 billion dollars in cuts since the governor took office in January 2011 are impacting our children today and will have serious ramifications tomorrow. Consider how we can compete in a global society tomorrow when:
•60 percent of school districts are increasing class size
•46 percent are cutting field trips and extracurricular activities including sports
•75 percent are furloughing employees or cutting positions through attrition
•19 percent are cutting early childhood programs like full-day kindergarten
•37 percent will reduce tutoring and extended learning opportunities that offer extra help for struggling students
•34 percent will eliminate summer school programs that provide students with the opportunity to make up academic credit that will allow them to graduate on time
These statistics were released by two well-respected organizations, the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators (PASA) and the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials (PASBO) after conducting a survey in late April of school officials statewide. The results represent responses from 281, or 56 percent of the state’s 500 districts.
School districts have already tightened their belts, adapting to previous funding cuts by drawing down reserves, raising taxes, furloughing staff, increasing class size and/or cutting programs. Without additional revenues, or a respite from mandated costs such as charter school funding that further drain available school district funds, more and more districts will find themselves in financial distress, especially once they have completely spent down their fund balances, leaving no room for unexpected increases in expenses.
At best, this strategy of cutting funding for public education is short-sighted. As one example, let’s take a look at the short- and long-term broad economic benefits that accrue from small class sizes. An analysis of the Tennessee Student/Teacher Achievement Ratio (STAR) program, first begun more than 20 years ago, has shown that for every $1 spent, there is a $2 return when class sizes in kindergarten through third grade are reduced from 22 to 15 students. Results are as follows: There is a 38 percent reduction in the racial test-score gap in kindergarten through third grade. The early identification of learning disabilities results in fewer special education placements in later years. High school graduation rates improve, future earnings are higher, and there are fewer incarcerations. More students take college entrance exams and there are smaller racial gaps among those taking the tests. Student behavior improves with fewer students referred for disciplinary action. Finally, once small classes are established, there are minimal additional costs for succeeding years.
Pennsylvania’s citizens support common sense approaches to education. According to an opinion research survey conducted in September 2011 by Dr. G. Terry Madonna, Professor of Public Affairs and Director of the Franklin & Marshall College Poll, 88 percent of respondents favored “restored school funding if the money were used for reduced class sizes to provide students more one-on-one time with teachers” and 89 percent favored restoring funding “for more individualized student attention and tutoring.”
The same poll showed that 69 percent opposed last year’s state funding cuts to public education, a nearly two-to-one margin. By a similarly wide margin – 59 percent – Pennsylvanians oppose creating a taxpayer-funded voucher system, also called Educational Opportunity Scholarships, for private, religious and parochial schools which would further drain funds from traditional public schools.
We invite you to visit the website of the Council for the Advancement of Public Schools (http://friendsofpubliced.org/save-the-music/) and learn more about the issues. Then contact your legislators today. Your voice has never been more important to preserve great public education.
Linda J. Weaver
Special Education Teacher, Bristol Township School District
President, Pennsylvania State Education Association/Mideastern Region