Date – April 27, 2011

A Sign of the Times . . . Corbett’s De-Funding Public Education Plays Out in Teacher Contracts, School Vouchers, Education Rallies . . . What is the Future of Public Education in Pennsylvania?

Gov. Corbett’s plan to de-fund public education in Pennsylvania in his proposed $1.2 billion funding cuts is becoming the backdrop for school district budget discussion statewide. Corbett’s education-funding proposal has left many communities wondering how they are going to make up their budget deficits and are looking to the teachers and non-instructional workers for help.

This week in Unionville-Chadds Ford School District, the teacher contracts appear to have stalled with both sides remaining at odds. If you recall, the teachers have been working under the conditions of the old contract, which expired last summer. Unionville-Chadds Ford School District is struggling with their budget and how to handle the $1.1 million reduction in state spending contained in Corbett’s proposed budget. The non-instructional district support staff agreed to a salary freeze but at this time, the teachers have not.

In Tredyffrin-Easttown School District, the school board sent letters to Tredyffrin Easttown Education Association (TEEA) and Tredyffrin Easttown Non Instructional Group (TENIG) unions asking the members to consider a salary freeze for next year.  Although I do not believe there has been an official response from either union, it is my understanding that TENIG will meet tomorrow (Thursday) for discussion and a vote on a salary freeze.  TEEA members will hold further discussions next week but I do not know if salary freeze is part of the discussion. 

In recent days, there have been many rallies around the state in support of public education. “Cut Corbett Not Schools” signs are seen all over Harrisburg – demanding that the legislature restore the $1.1 billion in education funding. There is a continued push by many to create a state-funded school voucher program (SB 1). Currently the proposed voucher legislation is stalled in the Senate; I think primarily due to the perceived cost of implementation.  The heated discussion of a state-mandated school voucher program continues to widen the divide between the teacher unions and the school choice advocates, who believe that vouchers are the answer to failing public schools.

The bitter debate raging in the state over Corbett’s proposed public education budget cuts has taken a toll on his approval ratings.  Less than four months in the governor’s mansion and today the Quinnipiac University polling is showing a big jump in disapproval for Corbett.  The polling indicated that 52% of Pennsylvania voters disapprove of the way Corbett is handling the state budget and 64% oppose his budget cutting of state and state-related universities.  (To read the April 27 Quinnipiac University poll, click here).

Aside from public approval ratings, what will Corbett’s proposed budget cuts mean for the future of public education? What lies ahead for school districts and our children across Pennsylvania . . . the elimination of art and music, language classes, increase in class sizes, scaling back full-time kindergarten to half-day, cuts to athletic programs? These are budget cuts that will require many school districts to impose higher property taxes, lay-off staff or impose pay-for-play requirements. Pennsylvania has become a battleground for public education funding . . . what does this say for the future of our children’s education?

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A reminder that tonight at 7 PM, State Senator Andy Dinniman will hold an education rally on the steps of the Chester County Courthouse (corner of High and Market Streets) in West Chester.

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