Thursday, November 20, 2014

Educators Say New Pennsylvania Governor's "Mandate" is to Invest in


PHOTO: Educators say Pennsylvania's incoming governor will have a chance to undo funding cuts that have hurt student achievement. Photo montage courtesy of the National Education Association.
PHOTO: Educators say Pennsylvania's incoming governor will have a chance to undo funding cuts that have hurt student achievement. Photo montage courtesy of the National Education Association.
HARRISBURG, Pa. - Incoming Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf faces big budget problems, but educators say he at least received a clear mandate from voters to reverse damaging cuts to schools.

Retired Pittsburgh public school teacher Mike Crossey, president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA), says past policies "blew a big red hole" in the state's budget, and reversed 10 years of improving academic achievement and test scores.

While he says Wolf faces a tough job to undo the damage, Crossey also notes the possibility of bipartisan cooperation following the "big vote of approval" for the governor-elect.

"Tom Wolf has a mandate to come in and not only start investing more in our schools," says Crossey, "but invest wisely so our students, no matter their zip code, have as much a chance to succeed as anyone."

The school funding cuts came as part a broader push to lower taxes and spending, but Crossey says those cuts haven't worked as well as its supporters had hoped, particularly outgoing Governor Tom Corbett. Crossey says Wolf's campaign included proposals to raise revenue, including a tax on gas drillers and closing corporate loopholes. He adds that expanding Medicaid in the commonwealth would bring in almost $500 million.

According to Crossey, the revenue options offer a chance to get school funding and achievement scores back on track.

"You don't throw money at an issue or at a problem, but you invest wisely," he says. "From our point of view, investing money in schools and kids is the best way to grow Pennsylvania."

According to PSEA figures, funding cuts landed hardest on schools least able to deal with them. While the average cut was about $85 per student in the commonwealth's 50 wealthiest schools, Crossey says the cut to the Reading school district was more than $1,300 per student.

"Reading is the poorest city in America. They don't have the tax base or the wherewithal to make up that kind of funding cut," he says.

Crossey addressed the issue in conjunction with the celebration of American Education Week. He says it marks a good opportunity for a fresh, nonpartisan look at how the state is funding schools.