Testimony from Ted Kirsch, President, AFT Pennsylvania
House Democratic Policy Committee, March 9, 2015
Warren G. Harding Middle School
“The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of the Commonwealth.” Article III, Section 14, PA Constitution."
Over the last several years, the state’s basic education spending has been inadequate and has not served the needs of the Commonwealth’s students. The absence of a stable and adequate funding formula increases the likelihood that students, particularly children living in poverty, will be denied vital academic programs and services, which will affect their achievement, graduation rates and matriculation to higher education.
On March 3, Governor Wolf presented a great vision for funding public schools in Pennsylvania, and AFT Pennsylvania supports his proposals. The Wolf budget rejects the recent culture of disinvestment in public schools and puts Pennsylvania on the right track to fair, adequate funding of public education.
Schools must ensure that all children are well prepared for life, college or a career and ready to contribute to their communities. Lawmakers must value more than academic standards and test scores. Our schools must provide safe learning environments and offer engaging curriculum that focuses on teaching and learning, not testing, and includes art, music and the sciences. Our schools must offer wraparound services to help all students succeed regardless of their background or situation.
We must make high-quality early childhood education programs and full-day kindergarten available as the first crucial step on each child’s educational journey and staff our pre-kindergarten programs with qualified, professional teachers and well-trained staff. Community schools must be developed in collaboration with parents and communities to overcome the challenges associated with poverty—such as poor nutrition and lack of high-quality medical care for children and their families. To accomplish these goals, we must address the Corbett administration’s devastating disinvestment in our public schools immediately.
Since the recession began, classroom spending has fallen from $6.135 billion to $5.629 billion in 2013-14, putting Pennsylvania 47th in the nation in its share of education funding. The funding gap between high- and low-poverty districts perpetuates disparities in opportunity and shifts responsibility for funding education to local taxpayers. The budgets of the past four years have cut vital programs and services to children across Pennsylvania, but have penalized disadvantaged districts disproportionately. Instead of generating revenue, the previous administration used rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul gimmicks and one-time funding sources, while cutting taxes for large corporations, refusing to tax Marcellus Shale gas extraction, expanding business tax credits and refusing to close corporate and luxury tax loopholes.
Pennsylvania’s elected leaders have the power to make public education a top priority, increase revenues, develop a state funding formula that funds schools fully and fairly and correct the egregious school funding problems facing many school districts today. Pennsylvania needs a full and fair funding formula to ensure that all children, regardless of where they live or the wealth of their communities, are offered the same educational opportunities. This will put Pennsylvania on track to develop educated and engaged citizens and workers who will help build a vibrant economy that benefits all Pennsylvanians.
Our constituents are not Democrats or Republicans. Our constituents are the children of the Commonwealth. Please stand with us and support a budget that invests in our greatest assets…our children.