THOUSANDS of PFT members took to the streets on May 10 to protest the state cuts that will undermine their efforts to provide Philadelphia's children with a good education.
Joined by parents, students and administrators at more than 200 public schools, teachers and staff voiced their anger over drastic cuts in programs, services and staff that will reverse eight years of gains in achievement and widen the educational opportunity gap between low-income students and their better-off counterparts.
The education cuts proposed by Gov. Corbett are unfair, unwise and unnecessary. Unfair because they disproportionately affect children from lower-income families in poor districts.
Unwise because they jeopardize development of an educated, productive workforce. Unnecessary because the state has enough revenue today to close next year's education budget gap without raising taxes.
Corbett's education budget cuts a crucial lifeline to needy students. Four years after the Legislature used the findings of the landmark "Costing Out" study to increase state funding to disadvantaged children, Corbett's proposal slashes $1,406 per student from Philadelphia's state subsidy. With no independent taxing authority, the city school district has only one way to make up the deficit - gut programs and staff that helped raise student achievement and graduation rates.
As a result, the district plans to increase class sizes next year, and cut just about everything else: early-childhood education, full-day kindergarten, student transportation, school nurses, libraries, art, music, sports, counseling services and vocational- and alternative-education programs. Nearly 4,000 Philadelphia school employees will be laid off: teachers, counselors, nurses and support staff - all needed in our classrooms, not the unemployment lines.
Vital preschool programs, which provide the foundation for learning, are slated to disappear next year, as will vocational programs that prepare youngsters for good jobs and alternative-education programs designed to keep schools safe and give struggling students a second chance.
Pennsylvania residents don't have to accept these shortsighted cuts. With the state on track to end the current fiscal year with a tax-revenue surplus of $506 million or more, we can afford to restore basic education subsidies. In addition, legislators can defer $320 million in corporate tax breaks that Corbett wrote into his budget and use that money to support public and higher education.
And polls show the overwhelming majority of Pennsylvanians believe that if Marcellus Shale extraction is going to continue, the gas companies should pay a severance tax on drilling, as in Texas, Oklahoma and other states. Together, these three sources provide more than enough revenue to sustain programs at their current levels.
Over the last eight years, the state has invested significant resources in public education, and by all reports, it's paid off.
The Center for Education Policy found that Pennsylvania is the only state to make academic gains across the board from 2002-2008, and those gains continued through 2010. Education Week's Quality Counts report said our students ranked seventh among states for K-12 achievement. And the National Assessment of Educational Progress said the rate of academic improvement here exceeded the national average.
Education in Pennsylvania is moving in the right direction. Voters want the governor and Legislature to fund their schools fully, not give tax breaks to corporations or save the surplus for some distant "rainy day" when it's already pouring in our schools.
Jerry T. Jordan is president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.