When I was very young, I learned in my church and from my parents that actions speak louder than words.
Anyone who has paid attention to the actions of our communities in Franklin County understands that we care deeply about our children and want them to go to good schools where they will receive the educational opportunities they need to be successful now and after they graduate.
In recent years, as school districts have faced devastating budget deficits because of inadequate state funding, home and business owners have paid higher property taxes. Parents have scraped together money for expensive fees so their children can participate in extra-curricular activities.
PTOs and booster clubs have redoubled their fundraising efforts, school district foundations have raised millions of dollars, and area businesses, veterans’ groups, and social clubs have donated what they can afford to help fund opportunities for our children.
We have come together in our communities and done everything we can to support our children. In spite of these efforts, the troubling fact remains that our state’s inadequate, broken and inequitable education funding system guarantees that many children who attend schools in Franklin County today will receive far fewer learning opportunities than their brothers and sisters before them.
Franklin County is home to some of the lowest spending school districts in Pennsylvania thanks to the state’s broken school funding system. The current system is heavily reliant on property taxes, so communities with a weak tax base simply cannot raise the revenue necessary to fund their own schools.
In addition, the current system has failed to provide additional funding to school districts that have grown over the past 20 years. In large part because of this broken system, Greencastle-Antrim, Shippensburg, and Fannett-Metal spend about $3000 less per student than the state average. They spend $75,000 less per classroom of 25 students per year than average schools spend.
Inadequate state funding has meant that these school districts have cut to the bone and continue to be faced with impossible choices as they balance their budgets each year.
The Shippensburg school board took money from its reserve fund this year to prevent the closure of elementary school libraries and the elimination of middle school sports.
Greencastle-Antrim drew down its funding reserve to prevent more cuts and is on the road to being bankrupt within the next few years.
Fannett-Metal became the first school district in the state to reduce its graduation requirement for students, simply because it could not afford to keep enough teachers in their buildings.
Without a significant increase in state funding this year and a long-term commitment from our state government to provide fair and adequate funding to schools, we can expect to see many children in Franklin County fall behind their peers from better funded school districts.
Gov. Wolf supports a $410 million increase in funding for public schools and has made many compromises throughout the budget process. He proposed a pension reform compromise that includes much of what the General Assembly’s leadership has asked for. Legislators rejected this compromise and demanded that the governor accept their pension proposal if he wants them to agree to a state budget. Period.
Wolf has also made multiple concessions on his original proposal to tax the Marcellus Shale gas drillers. Again, legislators have stood firm in their absolute refusal to enact a reasonable tax that could be used to fund our schools, turning it into a partisan debate instead of a policy compromise that is good for Pennsylvania.
Some lawmakers’ political speeches and literature directed against Gov. Wolf’s proposed budget may be good for currying favor with special interest groups and party leadership in Harrisburg. However, their absolute unwillingness to compromise, coupled with an absence of any real and sustainable plan for providing adequate state funding to our schools and reducing the reliance on property taxes, is hurting children in Franklin County. And it isn’t what voters want. We want people who want to be part of the solution.
Our communities are filled with real children who only get one chance at an education. It is time for state lawmakers who claim to support our schools to back up their words with their actions. It is time for lawmakers who care about public education to go to Harrisburg to do the hard work of governing and vote for a state budget that will invest $410 million in our schools and begin to help our schools get back on track.
Our communities have done everything they can to support our children and their schools. Now it is time for state lawmakers to do their part.
Susan Spicka of Shippensburg is the Advocacy Coordinator for Education Voters of PA