Cutting funds makes it harder for public schools to succeed
Oped by PSEA President-Elect Mike Crossey
Published in the Allentown Morning Call - August 18, 2011
If we want to improve the performance of our public schools, we should cut school funding. And we should make really big cuts in our most challenged schools.
Really? Does someone really believe this?
The Corbett administration recently cut public school funding by $860 million - with unprecedented cuts that hit Pennsylvania’s struggling schools the hardest.
A recent story catalogued the consequences of this shocking policy, pointing out that school funding cuts chopped nearly three times as many dollars in aid per student from Pennsylvania’s poorer school districts when compared with wealthier districts.
As the Associated Press reported, the poorest school districts lost, on average, $581 per student to the budget axe, significantly more than the wealthiest 150 school districts that lost an average of $214 per student. Some poor districts lost over 10 times more than some wealthier districts.
This dramatic tilt against the most financially-strapped school districts has already had consequences.
Class sizes are increasing. Full-day kindergarten is being eliminated in many school districts. Even some core course offerings have disappeared.
But, at the same time, the governor and others are pushing expensive, new initiatives – like tuition vouchers and charter schools, some of which are run by for-profit operators. These schemes take even more money away from the public schools, benefit private, for-profit enterprises, and have no track record of success.
Cutting state funding for the poorest school districts that need it most? Spending more money on private schools that benefit a few?
That just doesn’t add up.
Our public schools are among the best in the nation. But, like any organization, they need resources to continue that success.
Pennsylvania’s reading and math scores are among the nation's best. Pennsylvania was the only state in the nation to make significant progress in reading and math skills in every grade tested between 2002 and 2008.
This success didn’t come by accident. It occurred as a result of increases in school funding and sound education policy.
For the past decade, the General Assembly increased spending on the public schools and closed the funding gap between rich and poor school districts. Just as important, legislators invested in proven programs – like full-day kindergarten and small class sizes.
From these successes, we learned which solutions work in our schools – early childhood education, small class sizes, tutoring, technology, and safety.
But with the stroke of his pen, Governor Corbett reversed this trend when he signed the state budget – cutting $860 million from our schools. And our students will feel the consequences.
Now, with fewer resources, the challenge of educating our students, especially in schools serving struggling communities, just became much more difficult.
It has been a privilege to see investments in our public schools pay off. With resources to invest in programs that work, student achievement increased, and Pennsylvania’s public schools became an example for other states to follow.
Now, with this dramatic reversal, all of that success is at risk.
All of us – educators, students, parents, communities, and lawmakers – are accountable for the success of our public schools and the students they serve.
I urge the governor and the General Assembly to be mindful of this and provide our schools the resources they need to deliver the power of a great education to all of Pennsylvania’s students.
Michael J. Crossey, a special education teacher in the Keystone Oaks School District, begins a two-year elected term on Sept. 1 as president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, representing 191,000 future, active and retired teachers and school employees.