July 12, 2010

Cutting education funding doesn’t save money. Just the opposite.

Published in the Bloomsburg Press Enterprise
Saturday, July 10, 2010
PSEA President Jim Testerman

Critics of public education have latched on to a few well-honed political sound bites that unfortunately often get repeated by the news media without proper vetting.

Such was the case with the recent editorial, “State ignores school waste: Good money after bad.’’

Spreading misperceptions and half-truths does an injustice to all involved in public education, but particularly to the many fine students in Pennsylvania schools. For example:

  • The reading and math scores of Pennsylvania fourth and eighth graders are among the best in nation.
  • Pennsylvania was cited last year by the Center for Education Policy as recording gains in all academic categories from 2002-08.
  • More Pennsylvania students than ever – 7 out of 10 – are going on to higher education.

To help facilitate the public education discussion, the Pennsylvania State Education Association put together a comprehensive report this year called “PSEA’s 20/20 Vision for the Future.’’ The report, which can be found at www.psea.org/vision, is based on the exhaustive research of some of the best education minds in the country, and from think tanks of different ideologies.

Unlike the unnamed studies in your editorial, all studies in Vision are referenced.

Here is a just a partial list of what educational experts cite as priorities to enhance student achievement: reduced class sizes, early childhood education, targeted programs for at-risk students, middle to high school transition programs, making more efficient use of instruction time, and enhanced career and technical education.

Let’s take small class sizes as an example, since its value was dismissed out of hand in your editorial and larger classes are generally an immediate effect of funding cuts. The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching is among several studies in Vision touting the academic benefits resulting from more individual instruction enabled by smaller class sizes.

The benefits of smaller class sizes are particularly pronounced for minority students and those from low-income families. African-American students from smaller class sizes have improved significantly on test scores and participate in SAT and ACT tests in far greater numbers.

But we can only maintain small class sizes and focus on other research-proven methods with an equitable and sustained funding formula for our schools. The 2007 “Costing Out Study’’ commissioned by the Legislature determined that the Commonwealth’s school districts spent $4.5 billion less than was needed to meet federal and state standards. This led to Act 61 of 2008, which has resulted in increases in basis education subsidies each year as well as a more equitable funding formula.

It is no coincidence that confidence in public schools is rising.  Pennsylvanians in a Mansfield University survey have given higher grades and satisfaction ratings to schools in their communities from 2007 to 2010. Seventy percent of respondents in this year’s survey— the highest ever recorded — felt the quality of schools had improved or stayed the same over the past five years.

In addition to moving forward with Act 61, PSEA also believes the Commonwealth needs to develop a tax structure that is less reliant on the property taxes, and eliminates loopholes that give tax breaks to major out-of-state retailers and allows companies to hide profits from Pennsylvania’s corporate taxes.

The business tax loopholes in this state somehow escaped your analysis of fiscal accountability, but they do lead me to address another theme of your editorial on behalf of the 191,000 members of PSEA.

You contend that increased public education funding only benefits unions. Well, Pennsylvania’s average teacher salary has only increased 1.8 percent over the past decade; salaries as a percentage of school district expenditures decreased by 26 percent between 1986 and 2008; and teachers in the state have lower compensation packages than similarly educated professionals.

Pennsylvania’s founding fathers recognized the benefit of well-educated citizenry to society and the economy by stipulating in the state Constitution that a significant investment be made in a “thorough and efficient system of public education.’’

Founded in 1852, PSEA has played a major role in the development of that system, including “free schools,’’ free text books, compulsory attendance laws, and the development of “Normal Schools’’ to train teachers, a system that became the foundation for what is now the 14 state-owned colleges under the Pennsylvania System of Higher Education. From elementary school through post-secondary education, our 158 years of advocacy has helped improve educational opportunities for working families.

Research time and again has borne out why the state’s founders and today’s citizenry sees public education as a sound investment: The greater number of well-educated individuals, the less need for corrections programs, drug and alcohol treatment and other publicly funded support programs.

Cutting education funding doesn’t save money. Just the opposite.


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