PMA Bulletin -- February 19, 2014

Setting the Record Straight on Governor Corbett’s Education Funding

A central focus of Governor Corbett’s recent budget address was investment in education. However, many of the governor’s most vocal opponents often refer to the governor’s record on education funding as their chief criticism of his administration. For example, State Senator Vincent Hughes (D-7) recently referred to “the legacy of the governor slashing classroom funding by nearly $1 billion.” That is a serious accusation, but is it true?

The $1 billion dollars State Senator Hughes referred to was not “slashed” by Governor Corbett. In actuality, it was a one-shot injection of federal stimulus money that was then re-directed to basic education by the Rendell Administration. At the time of the allocation, the United States Federal Government even recommended that the monies be used for capital expenditures, not general operating budgets. Instead, the Rendell administration used eighty percent of the one-time funds for teacher salaries and benefits. The money stopped flowing when the stimulus program ended; not because of any action taken by the Corbett Administration.

The disinformation regarding Governor Corbett’s “billion dollar cut” has been repeated so often that in some circles it is accepted as truth. When read to the governor’s Press Secretary, Jay Pagni, his frustrated response was “patently false, patently false, patently false.”

Senator Hughes is not alone in making such statements about Governor Corbett’s education record; many opponents of the governor, and even some in the media, have continually perpetuated this falsehood.  It is difficult to engage in a reasonable debate about education funding when opponents of the governor refuse to acknowledge certain undeniable facts.

“State taxpayers are sending more money to the 500 school districts than ever before,” said PMA Executive Director David N. Taylor. “State support for public K-12 has increased every year during this administration. If someone believes more should be spent, at least get the numbers right so we can have an honest debate.”

Even with the loss of the stimulus money, basic education funding under the first three years of the Corbett Administration has increased by $1.2 billion, according to the figures from the Department of Education. In fact, in the current fiscal year, funding for K-12 education is the highest it has ever been in the history of the commonwealth; $9.75 billon overall and $5.53 for the basic education subsidy. If the General Assembly approves of the governor’s proposed funding for the next fiscal year, it will set another record at $10.1 billion.

Governor Corbett’s latest plan, the “Ready to Learn” initiative, injects money directly into the classroom. Pagni describes “Ready to Learn” as a “smart investment in education.” Opponents of “Ready to Learn,” such as Senator Hughes, believe that the program short changes Philadelphia and “benefits wealthier districts.”  Once again, the senator misses the mark. Department of Education spokesman Tim Eller states that, “’Ready-To-Learn’ will actually increase funding in the more urban districts, which tend to be the poorer districts, especially those with heaving emphasis on teaching the English language.”

Another charge by Senator Hughes is that “Ready to Learn” changes the traditional funding formula, which has been in place for nearly a decade. “Philadelphia would have received $51.9 million of the $241 million. In the new formula that the governor has created, the Philadelphia School District will receive $29 million. This is a loss of $22 million in potential new funding,” Hughes’ newsletter states.

The truth, “Ready to Learn” is a new program. There is no “traditional” formula to change. What the formula does take into account – but Senator Hughes fails to mention – is funding for charter schools.

“The Governor has two things in mind with this approach,” Eller said. “To prevent the school districts from losing any funding this year and allow the charter schools to get the funding without having to wait another year. That didn’t make it in the senator’s newsletter.”

Philadelphia’s $29 million is by far the highest of any district. This is because districts with more students overall, more English language learners, and higher concentrations of poverty will receive a greater share of the money. By comparison, one of the state’s wealthiest school districts, Lower Merion, will receive $272,140.

Governor Corbett has tied the additional funding to performance. Districts with higher School Performance Profile (SPP) scores, based in large part on standardized test scores, can be more flexible in how they spend the money.

(Here waiting for quote from Phila official.)

As Senator Hughes states: “Please share it with your friends, family, and co-workers so we can get the word out about the Governor’s failure to properly invest in education.”

We at PMA ask you to do the same, but we ask you to tell the accurate story. Governor Corbett and the General Assembly has NOT cut $1 billion in education funding. Instead, tell your friends, family, and co-workers the truth: at no time in the history of our commonwealth have we spent more on k-12 education.