Celebrating its 100th year as a branch in 2016, the American Association of University Women (AAUW) State College is part of a nationwide network of close to 1,000 branches that are dedicated to advancing equity for women and girls. Learn more about us at www.aauwstatecollege.org.
Restore State Funding to Pennsylvania’s Schools
BY MARY DUPUIS AND CYNTHIA HALL
It was a relief to see the state’s budget pass the House of Representatives in July. At first glance, K-12 education appears to have fared well with an additional $200 million in state funding.
But the outlook for education isn’t quite as rosy as it may appear. Mandated expenses including pensions, health benefits, special education, and charter school payments are increasing at rates that far exceed the additional $200 million increase. School districts across the state, unable to keep pace with these increases, have resorted to reducing or eliminating programming or raising taxes.
Pennsylvania’s school districts have lost approximately 20,000 jobs in an attempt to keep pace with these mandated expenses. A report by Temple University’s Center on Regional Politics found that by 2018 “60 percent of the districts in the state will face severe and prolonged program and staff reductions to balance their budgets.” Smaller districts have reported increases in both elementary and secondary class sizes, making it challenging, at best, to deliver adequate attention to the students most in need.
Over the past five years, the combination of a slowing economy and state and federal education cuts is widening the gap between mandated expenses and funding. According to Education Voters of PA, Pennsylvania ranked 44th in the nation in the percentage share of education costs covered by the state. (Pennsylvania provides 37 percent of total school spending as compared with the national average of 45 percent.)
Lack of funding eventually results in diminished educational achievement and increased high school dropout rates. If we continue on this path, Pennsylvania’s young adults will find it increasingly difficult to compete for jobs and college admission against a national pool, let alone an international one. Pennsylvania will struggle to attract and retain businesses with a workforce that may be less educated than that of other states. The true cost of a lowered investment in K-12 education impacts us all.
Logically, we know that there are only so many cuts that a school district can reasonably make before the local tax rate must be increased. While some districts, including State College, already have sought relief through increases in property taxes, close to 80 percent of the state’s school districts plan to increase property taxes in the near future. Moreover, school districts with smaller tax bases may be forced to tax at higher rates than others.
While externally driven and state-mandated costs have increased, the percentage of K-12 funding provided by state revenue has decreased by 2 percent over the past five years, while local taxpayer revenue has increased by 2 percent. (PASA-PASBO Report of School District Budgets, June 2015) Clearly, the burden of funding our schools has been slowly shifting to local taxpayers. Yet, many local communities simply do not have the capacity to absorb increases.
Pennsylvania’s lack of adequate state funding and heavy reliance on local taxes to fund schools is particularly impactful on low wealth districts that are mostly rural and urban. These districts lack the up-to-date books, science labs, and staff for their students to meet the academic standards set by state and federal government.
The passage of the Fair Funding Formula that works to restore equity in funding across the Commonwealth along with the $200 million increase in funding were critical first steps. We credit state government and our legislators for their action.
However, using the Pennsylvania Basic Education Funding Commission formula, the Public Interest Law Center found that the minimum increase in state funding needed is $3.2 billion.
Urge your local legislators to support fair and adequate school funding that truly results in a “thorough and efficient system of public education” for every child as guaranteed by the Pennsylvania Constitution.
Mary Dupuis (co-chair) and Cynthia Hall are members of the Education Policy Committee of the AAUW State College Branch.
Please take a minute to read this opinion column that ran in the Centre Daily Times on February 4 and was picked up by the Pennsylvania School Board Association (PSBA) on their news site. Call or write your legislators and urge them to revisit the charter school law.
School Choice: Eyes Wide Open
BY CINDY HALL, CAROL HODES AND MARY DUPUIS
In the Centre Region, both charter and cyber charter schools operate while families in rural school districts may have no charter schools operating in their districts. The majority of these schools are for-profit entities, although some charter schools are operated by non-profit organizations such as churches and grassroots community organizations.
If Betsy DeVos is appointed secretary of education under President Trump, the charter school movement in K-12 education would find itself with a prominent advocate. Devos also is a strong advocate for vouchers, which use tax dollars to subsidize private schools, including the religiously affiliated.
Pennsylvania’s charter school law, first passed in 1997 and revised in 2004, was intended to be a guide for the optimal relationship between charter schools and their host school districts. While the law states that school districts have oversight responsibility for the charter schools under their jurisdiction, in practice this has not been the case, particularly for cyber charters.
The charter school law was initially designed on the ideal of cooperative relationships between charter schools and districts, with the Department of Education serving as the mediator. Conflicts between the two entities are to be resolved in Harrisburg.
Currently, school districts hand over a check to charter schools based on per- pupil expenditures for each student they enroll. The philosophy behind the funding is that the money follows the child, whether he or she attends a regular public or charter school. The cash payout per pupil is the same regardless of the school attended.
Both charter and public schools are responsible for providing an Individualized Education Program (IEP) to students when needed. When a student with an IEP enrolls in a charter school, the payment the charter school receives is approximately double the normal rate. However, not all IEPs are created equal. Many are minimal, and the actual cost to accommodate the student is small. Many charters schools have learned to ‘cherry pick’ these less expensive students, thereby making a profit on each one. Often, the student is ‘discovered’ to need an IEP only after they have enrolled in a charter school; rarely is a student with an expensive accommodation allowed to enroll. This arrangement costs taxpayers statewide hundreds of millions of dollars each year.
While the law references charter schools being required to submit financial reports to their school district, the language is weak and it is unclear as to the amount of detail required. There should be a level playing field; the requirements for financial reports for public schools and charter schools ought to be identical. After his 2016 audit of PA Cyber Charter School, Pennsylvania’s Auditor General Eugene DePasquale urged the Pennsylvania legislature to “make charter school management companies, which receive millions upon millions of taxpayer dollars, explicitly subject to Pennsylvania’s open records law.”
Last year, the Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA) initiated a right-to-know request of the Commonwealth’s 173 charter schools. Initially, a little over half of those schools complied. But 19 charter schools refused to comply at all, even after being directed to do so by the PA Office of Open Records.
Accountability for student learning also requires greater oversight by school districts. While debate continues over the efficacy of the required PSSA exams, the exams are one of the only measures of accountability for student performance in the Commonwealth. Some charter schools are keeping pace with public schools’ performances; however, others especially cyber charter schools, are falling abysmally short. Performance on the PSSA exams should be used as one indicator of a school’s right to continue to receive taxpayer money and ultimately to stay in business. At the very least, charter schools should be required to demonstrate, by some reasonable measure, that the innovation that is the basis for their charter is having a positive effect on student learning.
Public school districts have elected boards composed of local citizens who reside in their communities. Charter and cyber schools often are run by management companies located outside the community. As DePasquale notes, a change to the current law is needed “to allow public input on who is given the role of a trustee charged with overseeing cyber charter school operations.” Before enrolling your child in a charter school, interested parents should do their homework, with particular attention paid to the philosophies of the company and its board of directors.
When it comes to our children’s education, increased choice can be a good thing. Innovations in teaching and learning can arise from these schools and can be modeled by others—but current Pennsylvania charter school law, by creating an adversarial relationship between the charter school and the host district, actually discourages that. At the same time, we can’t afford to put our children at risk because they represent a business opportunity. Let’s make sure our eyes are wide open when we advocate for school choice. Urge your legislators to revisit the charter school law and address its weaknesses.
Hall, Hodes and DuPuis are members of the American Association of University Women State College, which is part of a nationwide network of about 1,000 branches that are dedicated to advancing equity for women and girls.
AAUW-PA Annual Meeting Education Committee Report
April 11, 2015
By Cheryl Towers and Martha Czop, Co-Chairs
(Presented by Susan McNamara)
At the AAUW-PA State Business Meeting last year, we passed the education resolution you see on the slide before you. At the time, we did not have time to explore how best to proceed and took a cautious approach thinking we needed to study the issue first. Thanks largely to the dynamics of last year’s gubernatorial race, however, public education was on the minds of our members throughout the state and a more active approach became obvious.
Through the study group meetings over the past year, information gathered while preparing for the district meetings, which all focused on an element of education, and other sessions we had with various branches, the study group realized that the greatest impact AAUW-PA could offer was not in writing a white paper, but in collaborating with organizations already established and advocating for change in the Pennsylvania public education system.
After reporting these results to the board at its January meeting, the study group transitioned to the Education Committee chaired by Cheryl Towers and Martha Czop with the charge to join like-minded coalitions with organizations such as the Education Policy & Leadership Center, Education Voters, Fair Funding Campaign, League of Women Voters, A+ Schools, Yinzercation, and others, which has been done. Activities this coalition is undertaking include but are not limited to:
- Educate and advocate for the achievement of adequate and equitable school funding in Pennsylvania public schools to support the needs of all students,
- Support approaches to promote student success that take into account the diverse needs of students and districts; and the multiple and complex aspects/dimensions of K-12 educational strategies, and
- Expand the pool of citizens motivated and prepared for increased civic engagement with public school education in Pennsylvania, including service on elected school boards.
The Education Committee works in conjunction with the state and national public policy chairs on activities. This spring, state-wide advocacy training sessions (in person and webinars) led by Susan Gobreski, executive director of Education Voters are being held in all three regional districts, and we hope to hold at least one school board awareness and training sessions led by Ron Cowell, president, Education Policy and Leadership Center, during the coming year. In addition, calls to action when important legislation or activities pertaining to public education arise are planned during lobbying week in Harrisburg.
Finally, a note on committee membership. It has never been static. There has been a core group from the beginning consisting of Cheryl, Martha, Marian Cuningham, Mary Dupuis, Barbara Gold, Becky Goldenberg, Carol Heintzelman, Carol Hodes, Betty Hooker, Frank Kennedy, Margaret McGrath, Frank Pierce, Jan Schwartz, Joanne Vago and Susan Wheatley.
Over thirty members from the Erie Branch invited Margaret McGrath and Cheryl to spend a Saturday with them to brainstorm ideas and share input back in the fall. Many more people met in the Pittsburgh area for a planning session, attended the three fall district meetings, and joined us in State College in November for a session with Ron Cowell from EPLC to boil our points down to something we could send to the board. Many more of you have had input through board, branch, phone or casual conversations. This has been a work that truly reflects our members and their desire to see public education put at the forefront of important in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and we thank you for your hard work and for your enthusiasm. AAUW-PA has the power of its members, and this effort shows what we can do if we come together around an important topic.
At the State Business Meeting last year an Education Resolution was passed involving forming a study group to determine how best to accomplish the creation of a formal AAUW-PA white paper to address the quality and funding of public education in Pennsylvania. Through the study group meetings over the past year, information gathered while preparing for the State District Meetings, which all focused on an element of education, as well as the focus on education during the gubernatorial race, the study group realized that the greatest impact AAUW-PA could offer was not in writing a white paper, but in collaborating with organizations already established and advocating for change in the Pennsylvania education system.
The study group will become the Education Committee chaired by Cheryl Tower (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Martha Czop (email@example.com) with the charge to form a collation with like-minded organizations such as the Education Policy & Leadership Center, Education Voters, Fair Funding Campaign, League of Women Voters, A+ Schools, Yinzercation, etc. Within this coalition the Education Committee will undertake activities such as:
- educate and advocate for the achievement of adequate and equitable school funding in Pennsylvania public schools to support the needs of all students,
- support approaches to promote student success that take into account the diverse needs of students and districts; and the multiple and complex aspects/dimensions of K-12 educational strategies, and
- expand the pool of citizens motivated and prepared for increased civic engagement with public school education in Pennsylvania, including service on elected school boards.
The Education Committee will work in conjunction with the State Public Policy Chairs on some of their activities. Plans for 2015-2016 include state-wide Advocacy Training sessions (in person and webinars) led by Susan Gobreski, Executive Director of Education Voters, School Board Awareness and Training sessions led by Ron Cowell, President, Education Policy and Leadership Center, Calls to Action when important legislation or activities pertaining to public education arise, and other appropriate activities.
If you would like more information and/or to get involved, contact Cheryl or Martha and check back on the state website frequently.
|Cheryl Towers, Co-Chair Education Committee
Co-District Coordinator West
|Martha Czop, Co-Chair Education Committee
District Coordinator East
Education Resolution Adopted at AAUW-PA Annual Meeting (April 2014)
Whereas, the public policy priorities of AAUW-PA support a quality system of public education, be it
Resolved that AAUW-PA form and support for the 2014-15 fiscal year a study group of members on how to best accomplish the creation of a formal AAUW-PA white paper that expresses the state’s position on the following:
- Quality K-12 public education
- Funding of K-12 education in the Commonwealth
- The efficacy of the various delivery systems (brick and mortar, cyber, charter, etc.) of public education in the Commonwealth.
The report should include the committee’s recommendations on how to best accomplish the white paper and contain its recommendations for supporting the necessary research and funding to create this white paper.
Be it also
Resolved that this study-group report must be delivered to the AAUW-PA board of directors at their January 2015 meeting for consideration at the annual business meeting in April 2015.
Proposed by Cheryl Towers, Fox Chapel Branch
Seconded by Martha Czop, Levittown-Lower Bucks Branch