The Pennsylvania branch of the American Federation of Teachers is fighting what it believes is a state budget and series of legislative submissions that cripple teachers’ ability to properly instruct their students.
For the AFT, the last straw was Gov. Tom Corbett’s signature on a budget that essentially kept flat public education funding, while severely slashing funds to other education-related programs.
AFT President Ted Kirsch alleges that the cuts to education in Corbett’s budget led to 15,000 layoffs, larger class sizes and raised tuition for state-funded colleges and universities. Kirsch also took issue with a flurry of late-term bills, including the new teacher evaluation law (HB 1901), the creation of $75 million in educational tax credits for businesses (HB 761), financially distressed school legislation (HB 1307) and the new law (HB 1363) which Kirsch alleges will allow Secretary of Education Ron Tomalis to get personally involved in district/labor negotiations after a yearlong stalemate.
“Governor Corbett signed a $27.7 billion budget that kept funding for higher education and basic public education at a standstill,” Kirsch said in a memo to union membership, and subsequently released to the media. “The 2012–13 budget did not restore nearly $1 billion in 2011–12 education budget cuts that resulted in 15,000 teacher/staff layoffs, larger class sizes, cuts in academic, elective and extracurricular programs and tuition increases for college and university students.
“AFT Pennsylvania members worked hard during this legislative session to stop damaging legislation and a second round of state funding cuts,” Kirsch continued. “Our fight isn’t over, and your advocacy on the behalf of students and the institutions we serve helped to stave off more budget cuts.”
Although costs related to education have risen almost exponentially, none of the more than 200 school districts in the state received funding greater than what was received last year. In fact, only 17 school districts received that distressed school supplement, which totaled $38,999,060.
Kirsch and the union membership seem most irked at HB 2468, which Kirsch has repeatedly referred to as a “stealth voucher system” cloaked in school choice.
HB 2468 contains many of the tax-credit elements found in HB 671.
“House Bill 2468, which would expand the Educational Improvement Tax Credit and create a new tax credit for corporations to provide scholarships to poor children in low-performing schools, is a back door voucher that will divert needed taxpayer dollars away from cash-strapped public schools for the benefit of private and parochial schools,” Kirsch said when HB 2468 was announced. “The bill would not ‘rescue’ poor children from ‘failing’ schools, as its proponents claimed at an informational House Education Committee hearing in Harrisburg today. Committee members feared the majority of new, tax-funded ‘scholarships’ would subsidize children already attending private and parochial schools.
“EITC and the new educational improvement scholarship credit referred to as EITC 2.0 are unaffordable and unaccountable programs designed to subsidize private schools at the expense of public schools.”