Connect The Dots
Published April 2012 Voice
“Connecting the dots’’ remains a great puzzle for helping preschool and early elementary students learn numerical sequencing, and other cognitive learning skills. It’s one of the first steps in developing the ability to process information to see “the big picture.’’
Take, for example, the huge budget deficits facing school districts in Pennsylvania. Let’s connect the dots.
Dot number one is the 2010 election of Tom Corbett as governor of Pennsylvania, and getting what every chief executive dreams of – his party in full control of the legislative branch. From there, links go to dots showing Corbett cutting $860 million in public education funding this fiscal year, and proposing another $100 million cut in the 2012-13 state budget.
And streaming out of the Capitol are lines to 500 dots representing school districts in Pennsylvania – from urban to rural, affluent to less wealthy – struggling to plug budget holes created by the historical funding reductions.
There are dots for urban districts made up largely of low-income students, like Chester Upland and York City, which are struggling just to keep their doors open the entire school year.
There are dots for affluent suburban districts like West Shore, which spans Cumberland and York counties, and the nearby Cumberland Valley School District. Despite strong local tax bases, these two districts are both looking at cutting significant course offerings like language arts and music, and enacting fees for extracurricular activities in their 2012-13 budgets.
The picture that emerges is not the fuzzy little animal common to many children’s puzzles, but rather a howling monster threatening to inhale public education in Pennsylvania.
What grade do you give the Corbett administration’s education policy?
As the April 24 primary nears, kicking off a crucial state and federal election year that will culminate in November, remember where the first dot in public education’s current situation started – in the voting booth.
That’s the same place that nightmares for public education and public employee unions started in New Jersey, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Indiana.
Importantly, however, it’s where Ohio voters last year repealed a strident law corroding collective bargaining rights pushed through by first-term Gov. John Kasich. It’s where Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker will have his future determined in a recall election brought about by citizens angry over a similar collective bargaining measure in his state.
See a pattern here?
“I would remind our members and all voters that elections have consequences,’’ said PSEA President Michael J. Crossey. “Look around at what is happening in school districts all over the state. These are the consequences. To change them, we must change the political environment.’’
While Corbett won’t have to face voters until 2014, half of the Senate and the entire House is on the ballot this year. These are the men and women who will determine the fate – for better or for worse – of the governor’s public education policies.
“The 2012 elections provide an opportunity to elect candidates supportive of public education, and to send a message that Gov. Corbett will hear,’’ Crossey said. “Party affiliation doesn’t matter. We are the party of public education.’’
Pennsylvania doesn’t have an open referendum process like Ohio, or a recall mechanism like Wisconsin. But don’t think the repudiation of gubernatorial overreach in those states went unnoticed here.
Although there haven’t been the same attacks on organized labor and collective bargaining in Pennsylvania – at least not yet – Corbett did make a sneering reference to “special interests’’ while discussing public education funding in his 2012-13 budget address.
Again, let’s connect the dots.
Not only have his funding cuts put thousands of teachers and support staff out of work, the resultant larger class sizes and program cuts have made it much more difficult to the remaining educators to do their jobs, and to provide one-on-one attention to students.
As bad as the funding cuts are, they are only part of the Corbett administration’s agenda. The governor and well-financed supporters haven’t given up on taking even more money from public education and giving it to private schools for tuition vouchers.
Furthermore, Corbett and state Education Secretary Ron Tomalis are proposing that standardized test scores account for as much as 50 percent of teacher evaluations.
Connect the dots, and a reasonable question is if the governor is purposely trying to undermine public education to accomplish a privatization agenda?
That was the exact question a reporter for WHTM TV – obviously trying to connect the dots — asked York City EA President Kim Schwarz. Her response: “Absolutely. I almost feel like he wishes us to fail.’’
Regardless, there is no doubt that the Corbett administration’s funding and policy proposals are bad for public education. But he needs legislative approval for much of his agenda, and that is where this election year comes in, and echoes of voter pushback in Ohio and Wisconsin.
There is evidence that legislators of the governor’s own party are hearing from their constituents and trying to impose some restraint.
Corbett actually wanted to cut more than $1 billion in public education funding for the current year, and to their credit enough lawmakers came on board to whittle it to $860 million. There also has been enough resistance to vouchers among those same legislators to prevent a voucher bill from reaching the governor’s desk.
So, public opinion polls show strong majorities of Pennsylvanians are opposed to vouchers, and satisfied with their local schools and teachers. Emails, phone calls, letters, and anger at public forums are registering.
“Political figures, elected officials, and candidates won’t make something a priority until they realize it is one of your top priorities,’’ said Susan Gobreski, executive director of Education Voters Pennsylvania (www.educationvoterspa.org), a Philadelphia-based non-profit, non-partisan organization. “Your priorities are their priorities.”
They are particularly attentive, she noted, in an election year.
Who are the incumbents and challengers who are friends of public education?
You can find out who the recommended candidates are in your area at www.psea.org/vote2012. A special insert in this issue of Voice outlines the importance of your vote.
While much is at stake for PSEA members and public education advocates in the legislative races, there are statewide row offices at stake and, of course, the presidency and congressional seats at the federal level (see page 19).
Although the Republican presidential nomination process is still in full swing, NEA last summer recommended President Barack Obama for re-election.
PSEA’s Crossey noted he often gets asked by members about the Association’s involvement in politics, and his answer is that just about everything affecting public education and educators is controlled by elected officials in Harrisburg, and Washington, D.C.
“The decision-makers control our professions, and the course of public education,’’ Crossey said. “I ask members to vote their jobs and to vote for their students.
“Right now, we have too many elected officials who don’t value public education like we do, and who have no respect for those who work in public education.’’
With the April 24 primary kicking off the 2012 election year in Pennsylvania, a comment on Education Voters Pennsylvania’s website captures what is at hand:
“It is time to ask the question: Who is for great public schools and who is not?’’