April 6, 2011

Budget cuts to education will harm students, force local property tax increases

An unprecedented $1 billion in funding cuts to public school classrooms  would reverse years of significant academic gains, forcing school districts to increase property taxes and eliminate programs that work in order to balance their budgets.

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That was the message today from PSEA President Jim Testerman, who said the combined loss of federal funds and state subsidy reductions proposed by Gov. Tom Corbett will harm the quality of education across the state.

“Our primary concern in this difficult economic time is the impact of policy changes on the children attending public schools. Cutting programs that work for students, raising class sizes, furloughing teachers and creating uncertainty for parents over who will be teaching their children should cause concern for all Pennsylvanians,” Testerman said.
“We understand these are difficult economic times for the Commonwealth, but the consequence of the governor’s budget proposal is a billion dollars less going into Pennsylvania’s classrooms,” Testerman said. “No matter how you look at it, the reality is direct services to students will suffer.”

Testerman said PSEA members are concerned that the governor’s proposed school funding cuts would reverse years of academic progress. “The state has made targeted investments in education in recent years,” Testerman said. “Student test scores have gone up over that period. Cuts like these will take our schools backward.”

“The state budget is about our students’ future,” Testerman said.  “We can’t slash school spending, cut programs that work, and still expect our students’ success to continue. If we are going to educate our students for the challenges of tomorrow, we need to invest in programs that work – today.”

The governor has proposed eliminating key programs supporting early childhood education. Testerman said that would mean students would be more likely to begin their education at a disadvantage. “Ending the accountability block grant program which supports full-day kindergarten would mean that students would not enter the first grade ready to learn,” Testerman said.

Testerman said PSEA is interested in talking with Gov. Corbett about the governor’s policy initiatives outlined in today’s budget address. “We’ve been willing to take on tough issues before, and we’re willing to do it again,” Testerman said. “We have concerns about some of the governor’s initiatives, but we want to do our part to help the Commonwealth move forward.”

“We will continue to support research-backed programs, and voice our members’ concerns about any education initiatives not proven to be effective,” he said.

Testerman pointed out that Pennsylvania’s investment in recent years in effective, research-backed programs has paid off in increased student achievement. No states have statistically significant higher 8th grade reading scores than Pennsylvania on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Only six states have significantly higher 4th grade reading scores.  On the NAEP math tests, only seven states have significantly higher 8th grade math scores than Pennsylvania and only four are significantly higher on 4th grade math scores.

Testerman added that the Center for Education Policy reported that Pennsylvania recorded gains in all academic categories from 2002 to 2008 and that more Pennsylvania students than ever - seven out of ten - are going on to higher education.

“If the state fails to meet its obligation to our public schools, local property taxpayers and students will be the ones who suffer the consequences,” Testerman added.  “School boards will be forced to raise property taxes, eliminate programs that have contributed to our students’ outstanding academic achievements, and slash teaching jobs. That means that our students will ultimately pay the price.”

Testerman encouraged members of the General Assembly to consider the impact that the Governor’s proposed cuts will have on schools, students, and taxpayers across the state.


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