For the second year in a row, the president of the state's largest teachers union is calling for the Legislature to increase funding to public schools and to create alternative revenue sources to fund them.
In addition, Mike Crossey, president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, is asking that school districts be relieved of restrictions they now face on local real estate taxes in order to make up for the loss of state funding and for the Legislature to enact a "rational funding formula" for education. He said Pennsylvania is one of three states without a funding formula.
"You are squeezing districts on one end with the lack of state funding and telling them you can't raise local taxes," Mr. Crossey said during a teleconference held upon last week's release of the "Sounding the Alarm 2" report.
The report is PSEA's second annual compilation of the effects of an $860 million reduction in state funding to school districts in 2011, the first year Gov. Tom Corbett was in office, and the state's tough economy, which has seen decreases in tax revenues and interest returns. Mr. Crossey called for an end to the governor's "cuts only" approach to funding schools.
To increase state revenues, the report suggests curtailing the phase-out of the Capital Stock & Franchise Tax, a move the union contends would generate $365 million in revenues.
While the PSEA and district officials throughout the state maintain education funding was cut by $860 million in 2011, the governor's office has held steadfast in its stance that the money taken away from school districts was the result of the loss of federal stimulus money that had been used the previous year to balance the basic education budget. The governor and Legislature chose not to replace the stimulus funds lost to education with state money, though it did in other areas such as prisons and Medicaid.
Tim Eller, spokesman for the state Education Department, has stated that the governor has increased education funding by $1.25 billion since taking office. But that number includes money going to pensions, Social Security and other non-classroom areas.
"The bottom line is that the Corbett money is going to pensions, not classrooms," Mr. Crossey said. "We are talking about money that goes into the classroom."
Since the significant reduction in 2011, basic education funding has remained relatively stable at the reduced level. Funding for 2013-14 would increase by about 1 percent.
Since 2011, districts across the state have furloughed staff, increased class sizes and cut programs and elective courses, according to the PSEA report.
Mr. Crossey pointed out that the reduction in funding has affected poor school districts disproportionately because they rely more heavily on state funding. The PSEA report notes that since last year, four districts, including Duquesne, have been placed in financial distress and had state overseers appointed and four others were placed on a financial watch list. He warned that if funding remains at its current level more districts will move to those lists.
Mr. Crossey also called for a funding formula for charter schools based on the school's actual costs and for legislation to place limits on the size of reserve funds that charter schools can accrue. He cited increased charter school tuition costs as a major financial burden for school districts and criticized the state's decision in 2011 to eliminate the partial reimbursement that districts received on the tuition.
The report was accompanied with lists of cuts that districts have made in the past two years and are considering for this year, including the Plum School District, where the preliminary budget proposed the furlough of 23 teachers.
Mary Niederberger: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1590.