July 1, 2013

PSEA report details impact of school funding crisis on Pennsylvania students

Sounding the Alarm 2 CoverPennsylvania’s school funding crisis has grown worse, and students across the state are losing educational opportunities.

PSEA released Sounding the Alarm 2 on June 14, which details the impact of three years of funding cuts under Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration, and encourages lawmakers to levy fair corporate taxes so that Pennsylvania has the revenue necessary to start restoring the governor’s unprecedented school funding cuts. 

“Last year, we warned that the reality of unprecedented school funding cuts was forcing dramatic cuts to student programs and pushing a growing number of public schools to the financial brink,” said PSEA President Mike Crossey. 

“We predicted the fiscal crisis in our school districts would only worsen if policymakers did not take action to solve the factors that caused it.  One more year of inaction has indeed allowed the impact to hurt even more students in even more schools.  We have updated our paper with the hope that policymakers will heed the warnings and take action.

“Districts once considered financially strong are at risk of financial distress, and those that were struggling prior to the recession are in imminent danger of becoming insolvent.” 

Since PSEA’s initial Sounding the Alarm report a year ago, four districts have been designated by the Commonwealth as in “Financial Recovery” status. The designation under current law provides for the appointment by the state of a Chief Recovery Officer charged with developing binding plans to restore fiscal solvency. Four additional districts have been placed in “Financial Watch” status.

Crossey said, “These districts are pushed to the breaking point but they are only the first. More will follow as local fiscal reserves are exhausted. If legislators don’t act now, the financial viability of a significant number of school districts will be threatened within the next few years. A generation of Pennsylvania students will lose educational opportunities and will not get a second chance.”

Sounding the Alarm 2 details the program cuts in districts across the state. The report shows more and more school districts are cutting programs, increasing class sizes, reducing course offerings, and eliminating tutoring, summer school and after-school programs.

“Following the nearly $860 million in cuts in 2011-12 and minimal increases last year, districts are being forced to make increasingly difficult decisions about how to meet the education needs of their students,” Crossey said. “Many of these decisions will result in cuts to programs necessary to provide the challenging, well-rounded, and comprehensive curriculum required for success in the 21st Century global economy and therefore risk the future of our children.”

Crossey noted that some legislators continue to mislead the public on the nearly $1 billion in school funding cuts since Gov. Corbett took office, attributing the decline to the end of federal stimulus funding.

“The bottom line is, Pennsylvania’s public school students have nearly $1 billion less in available funds for their educations, while the governor continues to hand out corporate tax breaks,” Crossey said. “Gov. Corbett made that choice, and the quality of children’s education has suffered as a result.”

PSEA’s recommendations contained in the report ask Gov. Corbett and the General Assembly to restore the governor’s cuts, enact a sustainable and equitable funding formula for public schools, and to seek new revenue sources. 

Crossey pointed out that stopping another round of corporate tax breaks – such as the phase out of the corporate stock and franchise tax – will provide state revenues that can be used to start restoring the governor’s funding cuts.

Sounding the Alarm 2 is available online at www.psea.org/soundingthealarm.

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