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Public Schools - Talking Points for Advocacy

Pennsylvania’s public school students have recently been recognized nationally for their improvement in reading and math at all grade levels since 2002  (Center on Education Policy, August 2009).  The percentage of students scoring advanced or proficient on the PSSA Math Exams rose from 57.6% in 2002 to 76.3% in 2010 and from 65.2% to 72% on the PSSA Reading Exams.  The results are even better for the Susquehanna Valley School Districts with 82% of our students scoring advanced or proficient on the PSSA Math Exams and 75% on the Reading Exams.  (Lewisburg scored 90% advanced or proficient in math and 86% in reading.) Our area schools are now recording the highest academic achievement levels since the inception of statewide testing.

These improvements are a direct result of the hard work and dedication of our area educators.  Our teachers deserve praise and recognition for their terrific efforts in the classroom.  They have made a commitment to be held accountable to our students and to the community for the resources provided by the federal government, state government, and the local taxpayers. 

Over the past few years, additional funds have been allocated to public schools through ongoing grants such as the Accountability Block Grant, Classrooms for the Future Grant, and Science It’s Elementary Grant.  These funds were used to infuse technology into our high school classrooms, implement Pre-Kindergarten and Full Day Kindergarten Programs, bring inquiry-based science curriculum to elementary students, reduce class size at the primary grade levels, and provide more remedial reading and math instruction.  The financial commitment made by the state has resulted in higher levels of academic achievement.

Reducing state revenue to our schools at the very time when higher academic expectations are required by the federal No Child Left Behind Law will be devastating to our children and schools.  School Boards will be faced with the unenviable task of reducing expenditures and programs, furloughing staff, or raising local property taxes.  In many area school districts, all three will have to be done. 

School Boards only have discretion over certain portions of a district budget due to labor laws and mandated regulations from the state and federal government.  Programs such as music, art, drama, athletics, and after school programs will be the first to feel the impact of revenue reductions from the state.  These are the programs that provide a well-rounded educational experience for our students and help make them better citizens in the school and community.

Over the past two years, state funding to public schools has actually decreased as federal stimulus money was added to state revenues to increase funding allocations to Pennsylvania School Districts.  Now that federal stimulus dollars are no longer available, school districts are bracing for a significant cut in funding from the state.  This will result in serious budget deficits at the local level and force school boards to postpone, reduce, or eliminate programming for children.

Below are some facts regarding public school funding in Pennsylvania:

  • The state legislature approved Act 26 of 2008 to increase basic subsidy funds to school districts by 2.6 billion dollars by 2013-2014 as a result of the Costing Out Study.  All school districts were promised increases to meet academic programming needs and struggling school districts were promised significant increases.  Since the plan was enacted, state revenues to schools have actually decreased.
  • State revenues allocated to school districts totaled 5.2 billion dollars in 2008-2009.  This was reduced to 4.7 billion dollars in 2010-2011.
  • The state used over 1 billion dollars in federal stimulus money for basic subsidy to school districts over the past two years with no plan to fill the revenue gap when the stimulus money expired.
  • Due to the state budget deficit and loss of federal stimulus funds, school districts may see as much as a 10% decrease in basic funding that will result in large deficits at the local school district level.
  • Special education programs for children with special needs are mandated by federal and state regulations.  Prior to 1990, these programs were funded 100% by federal and state dollars.  Today, approximately 50% of the cost for special education is funded by local tax dollars.
  • Cyber Charter Schools are among the lowest academically performing schools in the state.  Yet, high performing public schools must provide full tuition to a cyber charter school for any student choosing to attend.  More than 500 million dollars is sent to low performing cyber charter schools each year at taxpayer expense. 
  • At one time the Pennsylvania State Legislature previously committed to supporting public schools at 50% of actual cost.  This commitment was abandoned in 1983.  Today, Pennsylvania ranks among the bottom in state support by only providing 35.8% of the cost to operate our public schools.  The national average is 48%.
  • School boards will not be able to raise local real estate taxes to offset the deficits of the governor’s proposed budget.  Act 1 of 2006 limits the amount of real estate taxes that can be levied by the school board without a voter referendum.  Therefore, local budget deficits will have to be closed by reducing or cutting expenditures, programs and staff.

Sources:     The Education Policy and Leadership Center, The Pennsylvania School Funding Campaign