Candidates for the 2014 governor’s race share more about their education platforms
By the Notebook on Dec 13, 2013 12:36 PM
In addition to their responses to our question about Pennsylvania's current approach to K-12 education funding, the nine candidates were invited to give additional explanations of their positions on school funding issues.
The charter school reimbursement line item was designed to provide transition funding for school districts in the early years of the charter school movement. At the time, school districts had no way to estimate the number of students that would choose to enroll in a charter school and properly plan for this expenditure in their budget. Since that time, charter school enrollment has become more predictable and districts no longer face significant budget uncertainties.
However, I do not believe we should focus on the charter school reimbursement line item. In fact, Pennsylvania needs, and I have proposed the creation of a charter school funding commission to study the way charter and cyber schools are funded. The formula, which was established at the inception of the charter school movement, has not been updated in 15 years. Charter school funding must be reviewed to determine if it is in the best interest of Pennsylvania students or if changes are warranted. Transitioning to a student-focused funding formula, as noted above, for both traditional and charter school students has significant potential to improve the distribution of education funding in Pennsylvania.
As Governor, I have sought to keep taxes low for all Pennsylvanians, including school property taxes. In my first budget, I closed several loopholes to limit the ability for school districts to increase taxes for expenses, such as health care-related costs and school construction.
It’s important to note that in 2011-12, Pennsylvania taxpayers spent more than $26.5 billion in state, federal and local taxes to support the state’s public education system. What’s very troubling to me is that, despite the taxpayer’s investing more than $26.5 billion, including significant increases in state funding of $1.17 billion over the last three years, more than half of the state’s school districts raised property taxes. From 2005-06 to 2011-12, school property taxes have increased from $9.4 billion to $11.5 billion – a jump of 21 percent – while at the same time, state support of public schools increased from $7.8 billion to $9 billion – an increase of 16.5 percent.
Additionally, the 500 school districts throughout the Commonwealth have more than $3.5 billion in unreserved fund balances, representing over-taxation of their residents.
I believe that Pennsylvania should ensure that every student has access to quality educational opportunities that meet their individual student needs.
We must set high expectations for schools, educators, students, and parents and ensure that precious taxpayer dollars are used wisely. But elected officials must also meet their responsibility to Pennsylvania’s children and our economic future.
Right now, we are failing too many children. Drastic cuts to basic education have forced rural, suburban, and urban school districts to make devastating choices, including increases in class size, the elimination of full-day kindergarten, teacher layoffs, and cuts in science, technology, and other core curriculum areas. Aid to our schools is determined by political calculations in Harrisburg and not by a school’s need. This is wrong. Providing high-quality public education is the most fundamental responsibility of state government and should not depend on where the student lives in the state.
As Governor, I will partner with stakeholders to determine the necessary level of state support to ensure that all students receive a quality education. I will establish a transparent and predictable funding formula that recognizes student and school district characteristics like student enrollment, school district size, and poverty. I will also provide sustained, adequate, and fair support to every school in Pennsylvania.
But we must do more. We must give our children a strong start by expanding access to prekindergarten and full-day kindergarten. We must make smart investments to improve student performance and make education work for today’s students. We must empower teachers and school leaders, and ensure that every public education dollar is invested wisely.
We must recommit to public education. There is no better investment for our children and our economic future.
Education is one of the most important factors in the success of our children, but more than that, it is critical to our success as a commonwealth. If we want to attract quality jobs that pay a family sustaining wage, we must have a workforce that is trained and qualified for the jobs of the 21st century. To do that, we must find fair and equitable ways to fund our children’s educations.
First, we have to look at the issues facing our schools. Many of our urban and poorer school districts face obstacles that others don’t – including the need to work with children who may not come from English-speaking homes and children who come from low-income homes where they may not receive the care or even the meals they need because their families just cannot afford it.