As we head into another school year, educators are facing some grim reminders of the current political state of public education in Pennsylvania.
As we welcome students to our classrooms and review our supply lists, the stark reality of state funding cuts is painfully obvious.
Most teachers will just dip into their own pockets to help cover the costs for basic classroom supplies. Surveys indicate that, on average, educators spend more than $400 a year of their own income for classroom materials. I am sure this year it will be much more.
In some communities, local businesses and organizations are also pitching in by providing much-needed funds to help offset the cuts. But the budget cuts cannot be solved simply by teachers and community groups lending a helping hand.
Consider the most recent sobering survey of school districts by Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators and the Pennsylvania Association School Business officials:
Class sizes will increase in about 60 percent of the districts surveyed. Three-quarters of the districts indicated that they furloughed or did not fill vacancies in their district for the coming year.
Students in 58 percent of districts will face reduced instruction in art and music, reduced physical education classes and fewer elective and advanced placement course offerings.
Almost half of the districts are delaying textbook purchases.
Forty-six percent are trimming or eliminating field trips and extra-curricular programs, including sports.
Thirty-seven percent are cutting tutoring programs and 34 percent are eliminating summer school.
What is so disheartening to those who care about public education is that this is a manufactured financial crisis.
Harrisburg politicians have created this funding crisis by giving $355 million to corporations to reduce the Capital Stock and Franchise Tax; by providing $175 million in Education Improvement Tax Credits to businesses; by giving $45 million in other special-interest tax breaks; and by refusing to close the Delaware tax loophole, which allows corporations to avoid paying $500
million in taxes in Pennsylvania.
And while corporations were getting tax breaks, the governor and his allies were busy trying to find other ways to punish teachers and public schools by lobbying for legislation that would base teacher evaluations only on standardized test scores.
Standardized test scores only tell so much about a student’s performance and, as a result, about a teacher’s performance in the classroom.
Fortunately, after much debate, the General Assembly passed a teacher evaluation plan that will base 50 percent of a teacher evaluation on a range of student performances including evaluations on multiple measures, such as classroom activities, tests, quizzes, projects and standardized test scores.
It also includes observations of an educator’s performance in the classroom.
This just makes good sense. But despite the grim political reality we face, educators will return to the classroom and continue to work hard to provide a high-quality education to every child. We only ask that those who make policy and vote on school funding issues make our children — rather than corporate campaign contributors — the top priority.
Brad Siegfried is president of the Central Region PSEA and of the Philipsburg-Osceola Education Association.