Monroeville, June 14, 2012 — Education experts, labor leaders, area school administrators and school board members today laid out disastrous financial problems at a state Senate hearing on the impact of state public school funding cuts.
Held at Sen. Jim Brewster’s (D-Allegheny/Westmoreland) request, the hearing was aimed at gaining a better understanding of how state funding cuts are impacting schools and taxpayers. Testimony was also offered on ways to raise additional revenues or establish greater school efficiencies.
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“Despite the proposed state subsidy restorations, area school boards continue to struggle with dire financial challenges that have resulted in curriculum cutbacks, teacher lay-offs and steep local property tax hikes,” Brewster said. “This discussion enabled local school officials and educational experts to weigh in on their funding challenges, and ways we can adequately and reliably fund our public schools.”
Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-Northampton/Lehigh/Monroe), who chairs the committee, added, “As we finalize the state’s budget in the days ahead, school funding will be one of more crucial and controversial issues. Gaining input from school board members and administrators across the state who are actually in the trenches struggling with funding shortfalls will be invaluable to us.”
In his testimony, Sen. Andrew Dinniman (D-Chester/Montgomery), who serves as Democratic chair of the Senate Education Committee, said the state now provides $352 million less for public schools than it did in fiscal 2008-09. He said less state support has translated into higher property taxes, an “onerous tax that takes no measure of true wealth or income.”
He added that the Corbett Administration’s school funding shortfalls are leading children from “the school door to the prison gate,” will fail to prepare our children for the new world economy and threaten to “destroy Pennsylvania’s ability to compete economically for decades into the future.”
All of the area superintendents and school board members who testified sharply criticized the Corbett Administration’s education policies. Many predicted that a growing number of schools would soon be facing deficits and on the brink of financial collapse. Many pointed to dwindling state subsidies, unfunded mandates and being cornered into annually hiking property taxes, furloughing teachers and cutting educational programs.
Michael Crossey, president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, told the senators there are very few incentives for young people to go into the teaching profession these days because of the widespread funding uncertainty and lack of respect for teachers.
Boscola commended Brewster for his “unrelenting efforts to find additional revenue sources to supplement stagnant school subsidies.
Last year Brewster introduced legislation that would dedicate half of a 7 percent natural gas drilling fee for public school funding. The bill would generate $280 million annually, but majority Republicans have buried the proposal in a senate committee.
In both of his first two years in office, Gov. Corbett proposed steep educational funding cuts in his budget proposals. Last year, the governor proposed cutting $1.1 billion before the legislature restored $200 million. This year, the senate version of the budget bill would level fund public school funding by restoring an additional $100 million. Boscola predicted that this year’s budget will be finalized in the next week or two.
Brewster said many school districts cannot absorb huge state funding cuts with growing personnel costs, rising energy and physical plant costs and skyrocketing employee pension costs.
“While the Corbett Administration boasts about holding the line on state taxes, they have fostered a tax shifting shell game that leaves our schools, students and taxpayers out on a limb,” Brewster said. “Our kids deserve an opportunity for a good education, not some cut-rate abbreviated mishmash that does little more than sound good in right wing stump speeches.”
Joining Boscola, Brewster and Dinniman at the hearing were Democratic Leader Jay Costa (D-Allegheny), and Senators Wayne Fontana (D-Allegheny), Vincent Hughes (D-Phila.), Rich Kasunic (D-Fayette/Somerset), and Tim Solobay (D-Washington).
Those who testified included: Senator Andrew Dinniman, Democratic Chairman of the Senate Education Committee;Michael J. Crossey, president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA); Robert Pallone, president of the New Kensington-Arnold School District School Board; Richard P. Livingston, president of the Clairton City School District Board of Directors; Marilyn Messina, president of the Woodland Hills School District Board of Education; Dr. George Batterson, superintendent of the New Kensington-Arnold School District; Dr. Bart Rocco, superintendent of the Elizabeth-Forward School District; and Dr. Michael Panza, superintendent of the Sto-Rox School District
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