Even before making the annual February budget proposal to the legislature for 2013-14, Gov. Tom Corbett said that this year he would not slash funding for basic education.
Still, public education advocacy groups like Public Citizens for Children and Youth are preparing themselves for what could be another difficult fight to increase state funding for school districts. A key question is how the Corbett administration handles the one factor which could absorb revenues that would otherwise go to fund classrooms – public employee pension costs.
“My hope would be that the administration would restore the education cuts that were imposed in 2010,” said Donna Cooper, PCCY’s new executive director. “But I don’t think that is likely because the demands on the budget as a result of rising pension obligations will overshadow efforts to restore those cuts.
“The administration is likely to conflate pension increases with education increases because pension increases will be for teachers. We should meet our obligations to pension commitments made to teachers, but that is not the same as spending in classrooms.”
PCCY is now taking steps to help build a case for more education funding. First, it is evaluating property tax increases over the last two years to identify those that are attributable to state budget cuts to schools.
“When the state cuts funding for schools, it means a higher tax locally,” Cooper said. “So we want to explain to people the relationship of that to cuts in education and help people understand that we can either share the burden statewide – or share it at a localized level, and that would be painful.”
PCCY is also looking at the impact of previous cuts in terms of rising class sizes and reductions in educational programming.
“Above third grade, Philadelphia has 33 kids per class and 30 kids in K-3. That is not in line with what national research says needs to happen, so we want to document what these cuts have meant so people can make the case for why restoration of the cuts is urgent,” she said.
PCCY plans to mobilize citizens to ask the School Reform Commission to advocate for more resources and talk with school boards throughout the region about visiting their state representatives and state senators to ask for educational fund increases.
From the District, Cooper said she hopes that Superintendent William Hite will engage in discussion with the SRC about what it needs to do to get adequate funding, but said parents play a big part in the fight.
“The level of extraordinary parental engagement in the school closing conversation is what I believe is the level of engagement that will be needed to build the will for the legislature to ultimately invest in schools and pass a fair funding formula.”