Killing public education posing as budget cuts

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Recent rallies to protest education cuts by church groups and other concerned parties underscored a larger movement that is taking place across the commonwealth.

Governor Corbett’s cuts, which hit K–12 and higher education, go beyond the need to deal with a $4 billion budget shortfall. It smacks of—in the regrettable words of GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich—right-wing social engineering.

Some believe SB 1, also called the school choice bill, is a Trojan horse to privatize public education.

The Bala-Cynwyd-based Susquehanna International Group, through political action committees donated $1.5 million of the $1.7 million state Sen. Anthony Williams, the sponsor of SB 1, raised for his gubernatorial campaign.

The Susquehanna International Group is a strong proponent of school choice as is Williams, who is a Democrat.

There are also two other proposed pieces of legislation, SB 911 and a bill requiring a two-thirds vote on school boards to raise property taxes.

SB 911 would eliminate all exceptions school districts may take under Act 1 in areas such as retirement and special ed, which now enables them to raise taxes above the Act 1 cap without a referendum.

Put all of that with Corbett’s proposed $1 billion in education cuts and it appears, as state Sen. Daylin Leach, D–Upper Merion, says, “the ultimate agenda is elimination of public education.”

Like all voucher programs, SB 1 has a fatal flaw if one presumes its aim is to reform public education, not destroy it. When a student leaves a public school district, taking the $15,000 with him or her, the district doesn’t save that amount. The district’s costs remain the same so students left behind have to do more with less and less as more students leave to go to private and parochial schools.

Also the $15,000—this amount is an estimated example—is often less than the tuition of the private or parochial school the student goes to, leaving already economically challenged households more vulnerable.

When you look at other factors, such as not using the rainy day fund and Corbett’s approval to build three new prisons—the governor is proposing an 11.6 percent increase ($1.9 billion) in funding for the Department of Corrections—clearly there is no absolute need to cut the education budget by $1 billion.

Poorer school districts, usually in rural areas, could lose as much as 45 percent of state funding, potentially leading to closures.

Harrisburg has already heard your voices but to stop this assault upon the children of Pennsylvania, you need to shout louder.

(Reprinted from the Philadelphia Tribune.)

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