June 2015 Newsletter

PA Budget Battles: Coming to a Theater Near You

A pivotal scene in the movie, “Hunt for Red October” has a fictional Jack Ryan imploring a submarine captain to “Please — give the man a chance.” In yielding to the plea, the good guys win in the end with a lot of complicated action in between.

The same plea can be offered on behalf of Governor Tom Wolf’s ambitious budget plan, particularly when it comes to education. It is an all too real drama playing out right now in Harrisburg and across the state.

In the simplest of terms, what his budget will enable is a restoration of funds for education abandoned to special interests of prior administrations.

More than that, the proposed budget for education will increase from 35 to 50 percent the state’s share in education funding. This will lift Pennsylvania’s ranking from among the lowest in the US in state spending for education to a more equitable and competitive level.

It will establish a formula for fair state education funding to allow balance across all districts in the state – the prosperous and the not so prosperous. At the moment, state funding is determined annually by the General Assembly in Harrisburg, which typically matches prior year spending with no adjustment for changes in population, demographics or need.

With the majority of local school district funding derived from local property taxes the current model perpetuates poor education in poorer areas. Low property values yield lower contributions for education. Wealthier areas with high value real estate receive higher funding for education, underscoring the inequity of the current system.

Governor Wolf’s plan puts $500 million into basic and special education – next year. In recognition of the urgency of an early foundation, it provides $120 million to fund Pre K and Head Start programs and allow for increased enrollment.

The state university system benefits with an increase of nearly $160 million and simultaneously provides for students at both the high school and college levels, and increases funding for STEM based education and scholarships. It puts a cap on funding for cyber charter schools.

Financing for the proposed budget draws $1 billion from those drilling for natural gas reserves across the state. Personal income tax will increase to 3.7 percent and sales tax will increase to 6.6 percent and apply to many more goods and services.

Securing dollars from these sources would directly impact the constituencies the controlling majority of the General Assembly typically try to protect – big business and wealthy, high-income earners. And this is where the movie action gets complicated.

There’s no doubt that getting the governor’s entire budget passed will be a battle. The numbers are high. But the stakes for Pennsylvania’s children are even higher. Please “give the man a chance” and actively support CAPS efforts to help get our state the funding for public education it needs and deserves.


Summertime Learning for Students (And Teachers)

It’s the time of year when strains of “School’s Out for Summer” begin to echo in the hearts, minds and hallways of teachers, students, and schools everywhere.

The summer provides a much-needed rest and most people who work will take some time off for a vacation holiday. However, for many educators, the summer isn’t so different from the rest of the year. Two weeks or so recharging is about all that can be spared.

While some not directly engaged in teaching think summer offers an extended break, we know our CAPS membership will be busy. Many will keep right on teaching at school summer programs or at university levels. Others return to the classroom but on the other side of the desk as they expand their own knowledge base – all with an eye toward being a better teacher themselves.

Preparing for the coming year ahead is never far off. There are new lesson plans to develop, old ones to improve, creative designs for classrooms.  The thing is, when one is a teacher, the love of children and the love of learning are in our DNA. There is no turning it off and that is what keeps us sharp and passionate about what we do. Summer and winter, the teaching and the learning continue.

Our students may want to forget school, to forget learning, and to forget anything that requires thinking. Yet we all know that “turning the brain” off is a bad idea. That’s why the end of the school year is an ideal time to share ideas with students and their families about ways to keep young minds sharp and active during the break from school.

Libraries and community centers are excellent free resources for books, movies, and music. Starting a summer reading list and working through it as a family can be fun and relaxing while keeping the mind focused and engaged. For younger children, storytelling time under the stars can be a great experience. For teens, reading the book and then watching the movie can lead to thoughtful and stimulating discussions.

Sporting events offer the opportunity to perform mental math equations. A trip to a science museum can provide the opportunity for STEM learning that’s hands-on and fun. Vacation planning can prompt research assignments to learn about new places as well as offering lessons in navigating airports and mapping routes.

And what can be done for someone who has no plans or “nothing to do”? Suggest volunteering. At a shelter, a food kitchen, a community center. As we know, there is no better way to learn than by teaching or sharing with others; no better way to find fortune than by sharing what little or great you may have with someone who may have or know even less. All of it will keep all of us sharp…because all too soon, school will be in session again.


Introducing: Above & Beyond

Students come to school every day carrying more than just backpacks. Some carry exhaustion because they don’t have real beds to sleep in. Others carry dreams of marching in school bands but they can’t afford the instruments.

These are true stories. Students here in Bucks & Montgomery County struggle with challenges well beyond what children of their ages should ever have to manage.

Yet in these cases and countless others, our teachers have stepped forward to lighten their loads. They take notice of a child and recognize a burden impeding learning and opportunity – and set about taking action to find that bed or that clarinet or the countless other material (and non-material) items he or she may be lacking.

To spotlight some of the large and small acts of heroism our members perform on a daily basis, we are introducing a new section to our newsletter called “Above & Beyond.” It is a section dedicated to highlighting the activities of teachers in Bucks and Montgomery County who go above and beyond what is expected of them. We invite you to share your own stories or those of others who are going “Above & Beyond” to improve the lives and learning of students.

Please send your stories to FriendsOfPublicEdNews@stargroup1.com. We will contact you to follow-up and get additional details. And be assured that if your story is shared in the newsletter no confidential details will be disclosed and student beneficiary’s names will not be used. We look forward to learning more about some of the extraordinary ways in which our members are helping young people in our school districts and communities.