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In addition, PA Schools Work releases new poll showing Pennsylvanians overwhelmingly want the state government to equitably invest more in public schools, oppose public funds for vouchers
HARRISBURG – As budget negotiations continue in Harrisburg, education advocates from the PA Schools Work campaign were joined by House Speaker Joanna McClinton and House Majority Appropriations Chair Jordan Harris in the Capitol Rotunda to push for a final budget that makes sizeable investments in Pennsylvania public schools.
“If we’re not investing in our schools now, when are we going to invest,” said House Speaker Joanna McClinton. “If we don’t decide that our children in every single zip code deserve a fully-funded school now, what exactly are we waiting for? We’re not going to wait any longer.”
The press conference was held on the heels of House Democrats passing a budget last week. That budget now sits with Senate Republicans.
“Pennsylvania is in one of the best financial situations we’ve been in for a very long time… in total, [we invest] a billion new dollars for public education in our budget,” said Representative Jordan Harris, majority chair of the House Appropriations Committee. He continues, “We’re here, ready to work for Pennsylvania. Put your numbers up and show us where you stand. We will not stand in the way of investing the dollars we have in Pennsylvanians.”
The PA Schools Work campaign also released results from a recently conducted statewide poll about Pennsylvanians’ attitudes toward education, specifically education funding. According to the poll, conducted this month by Data for Progress of likely voters (sample size = 1,274 likely voters, margin of error +/- 3% – see below for more detail):
- 67% think that state government should be doing more to ensure that public schools are sufficiently funded;
- 66% think that state government should be doing more to ensure that public schools are equally funded; and
- 64% think that Pennsylvania is experiencing a teacher shortage;
- by a margin of 26 points, Pennsylvania likely voters oppose turning public funds into vouchers; and
- 69% of voters believe there are significant differences in education quality provided by public schools across Pennsylvania because some schools do not receive enough funding.
“This poll confirms that the electorate is very clear that the shortage of teachers and inequity among schools is a result of the state not doing enough to make sure every student gets a great education,” said Donna Cooper, Executive Director of Children First. “The results are conclusive that they want the state to do much more to solve these real educational challenges that are affecting their kids and their communities.”
“The Pennsylvania House budget passed last week thus does exactly what voters want,” said Marc Stier, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Policy Center. “It takes a critical step forward in fully and fairly funding our schools. That is why we are calling on the Senate to join the House in embracing this proposal.”
At the press conference, Deborah Gordan Klehr, Executive Director of Education Law Center, framed the need in the context of the recent Commonwealth Court decision that ruled Pennsylvania’s funding system unconstitutional: “The budget passed by the House is the minimum necessary to demonstrate that the General Assembly understands the scope of their historic failure and their obligation to fix the system for future generations,” she said. “The court’s decision convincingly puts an end to the myth that some children simply can’t learn. Given the right tools and opportunities, every child can thrive and live up to their true potential. Our students are looking to the Pennsylvania Senate to comply with their constitutional obligations and ensure their access to a bright future.”
Speakers brought attention to the ongoing education funding needs of PA public schools and the inequities from one school district to another, pointing to the fact that Pennsylvania ranks 45th in the country in the state’s share of funding for public schools.
“Both as a student and an educator, I have been in schools that have had limited resources, run-down facilities, and teachers paying out-of-pocket for supplies,” said Zakiya Stewart, Pennsylvania Policy Manager for Teach Plus. “I have also seen school leaders and staff work beyond exhaustion to support schools that have gone severely underfunded for far too long. But we have an opportunity to continue the work from last year’s budget season and make a difference in the way we fund our schools that tells the world that we are serious about our future and serious about the impact we aim to have.”
Several speakers pointed out that the increases for public education in the House-passed budget amendment do not put the taxpayers at risk.
“Investing state funds into PA’s education system means that in the next fiscal year we can hold down property taxes,” said Priyanka Reyes-Kaura, K-12 Education Policy Director for Children First. “In too many parts of our Commonwealth, school districts depend on repeatedly raising local taxes. This year’s budget could change that.”
“At the end of this fiscal year on June 30, the state will have a $13 billion accumulated surplus including the Rainy Day Fund and the general fund surplus – if the House budget is adopted, the state will still have a $10.5 billion surplus on June 30 next year,” said Stier. “Contrary to some of the critics of the House passed budget, it does not draw down our Rainy Day Fund but actually adds a bit more than $500 million to it.”
All the education advocates who spoke made it clear that the PA Senate should get on board with the investments in public education in the House-passed budget amendment. “The Commonwealth Court’s ruling requires the General Assembly to take steps to address our unconstitutional school funding system – the House budget amendment is a down payment and a step in the right direction,” said Susan Spicka, Executive Director of Education Voters of Pennsylvania. “We have the money; we have the court order; now it’s time for the PA Senate to deliver for our children.”