GOV. TOM WOLF won election by campaigning strongly on his commitment to significantly increase education funding and to make fundamental changes in the way those funds are distributed to the 500 school districts across Pennsylvania. Soon after taking office, he proposed a comprehensive plan for increasing the percentage of education funding which comes from the commonwealth, while shifting the source of funds away from the heavy property-tax burden which many Pennsylvania communities currently shoulder. For the past two and a half years, POWER, an interfaith network of churches, synagogues, mosques and people of conscience in eastern Pennsylvania, has been working to bring justice to the state’s educational system. POWER worked with education advocacy groups across the state to make funding for public education the most important issue in the governor’s race. Its members testified before the state’s Basic Education Funding Commission and called attention to the systematic way current methods of distributing funding discriminate against school districts with higher percentages of students of color. POWER helped the governor’s budget team and the Funding Commission develop a funding formula that eliminated those racial disparities.
Gov. Wolf and the Republican-dominated Legislature are now deadlocked in budget negotiations about the amount of funding this year’s budget will provide for education and the source of the money. The governor has proposed a $410 million increase in basic education funding, while the Legislature has proposed $100 million. POWER accepts the Campaign for Fair Education’s findings that $3.6 billion in additional funding for basic education is needed before all school children have access to quality public education across the state. However, as a positive first step in this process, we support the governor’s proposal of an additional $410 million for this fiscal year. We call upon Gov. Wolf and his team to hold firm to their position, and upon House and Senate negotiators to yield to the clear will of the citizenry and begin to restore the education-funding cuts made under the previous administration.
Furthermore, we support the governor’s plan to use this year’s funding increase as a “Restoration Budget,” thereby restoring funds to those districts most severely handicapped by recent years’ cuts. Finally, we call upon all parties involved to implement the commission’s recommended funding formula into law in a way that brings all districts to the formula-recommended share of funding as quickly as possible. It is not sufficient to merely distribute future funding increases according to the formula, as that would leave the deep racial bias and other inequities in the current year’s funding in place for decades to come. Rather, we call for future increases to be allocated first and foremost to districts receiving less than their fair share according to the formula.
We recognize that in order for there to be fully funded and fairly distributed resources for public education, there will need to be significant reform in the state’s tax code. There are many forces, especially business and corporate entities that are pressuring the legislators not to raise taxes for anyone or any entity across the state. However, we ask the legislators to remember that the children of Pennsylvania are their children, and therefore their primary responsibility. If there is a school district anywhere in Pennsylvania that is so inadequately funded that it cannot provide the quality of education that they, the legislators, would send their children or grandchildren to, then it is within their power and it is their responsibility to assure that those underfunded districts be properly resourced.
Providing for the children of this state is not primarily a financial or a political issue. Rather, it is a human and moral issue. If the businesses who operate in this state expect to have a properly educated, highly trained workforce in the coming years, they too will get behind the proposed educational funding increases as well. Simply focusing on minimizing taxes is both misguided and short-sighted.
Thus, we urge all citizens to contact their legislators to urge them to resolve the current budget impasse, support the governor’s proposed $410 million increase, and work diligently and faithfully to provide an excellent education for every child of this state, regardless of race, location or economic level.
Contact: David Mosenkis, POWER Education Committee Co-Chair 215-906-2670 | firstname.lastname@example.org