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As concerned women, we urge all fellow citizens to join with us and call, write to and visit your legislators to insist on a budget that fairly and adequately supports our public schools. Our teachers, our students and our public schools need your concern and your support for fair, equitable and sustainable funding.

It is shameful that Pennsylvania is ranked 46th in equity of school funding. Some Pa. schools have per-pupil spending of $22,140. Other schools have closed libraries, no music or art classes and per-pupil spending of $8,584.

There is no mystery about how students learn best and succeed. Abundant research documents the necessary ingredients, which are always found in the highest performing schools, public and private: challenging and engaging courses of study, well supported and respected teachers, enrichment programs, small class sizes and a supportive staff of librarians, counselors, nurses and social workers.

Yet PA’s legislators have voted to do the opposite, enacting cuts that eliminated enrichment programs and engaging courses, increased class sizes and taken 27,000 teachers, guidance counselors, librarians, nurses and aides out of our public schools. It is simply not true that we are “already spending too much” for public education.

If legislators are serious about education and tax reform, they must first recognize that equitable school funding and fair taxes go hand-in-hand. Forcing local school boards to make up for irresponsible legislative choices overburdens senior citizens and lower income property owners, while it punishes students and teachers.

In 1980 PA contributed 51 percent of its budget to public education. This has been reduced to 36 percent, with additional cuts of $1 billion over the past four years, because funding public education simply has not been a priority in Harrisburg. Not only has this underfunding by the state critically affected our schools — it has also radically increased our property taxes to make up for what the state is not contributing.

In countries where students succeed well, teachers are given many opportunities to learn and grow in their profession, they are well compensated and they are respected for their knowledge and expertise. In Pennsylvania legislators, who have rewarded themselves with automatic annual pay raises and generous pensions, publicly blame teachers for budget deficits that the legislators have created themselves.

Let us all remember who created the pension debt crisis. It was our legislators who for many years passed budgets that did not pay the state’s fair share for pensions, while teachers faithfully paid what they owed into the system.

Our standards-based testing system demands equal expectations for all students. But our state funding system provides neither equal nor adequate resources. In 2010-11spending per pupil ranged from $8,584 to $22,140, which means there is a gap — an opportunity gap — of $338,900 for every class of 25 students in poorer districts where students generally need more learning support and services. Pennsylvania lawmakers have created a system that does exactly the opposite of what is best for all of our children.

It is policy choices — in education, minimum wage, family support, and women’s healthcare — that maintain our unconscionably high child poverty rate of 20 percent — the highest in the industrialized world. And this is from legislators who profess to honor and defend the sanctity of every life.

What are the facts on the current “responsible” Republican budget?

  • It includes only $8 million in increased funding for education ( $4.60 per student — hardly enough to buy pencils, erasers and paper, much less close the opportunity gap between wealthy and poor students),
  • It does not include responsible property tax relief
  • It underfunds mandated payments for teacher retirement by $112 million
  • It increases the state’s budget deficit
  • It does not require gas drillers to pay their fair share to fund our schools and grow our economy

(Note: The gas industry spent $55 million and counting on lobbying and campaign contributions since 2007 to prevent the General Assembly from passing a severance tax.)

So what do we need for fair, equitable, sustainable public school funding?

A balanced budget that

  • Reverses the budget cuts of the last four years by increasing funding to schools to make the positive difference students need
  • Reduces property taxes, particularly for low income families and seniors
  • Requires gas drillers to pay their fair share

Our lawmakers have truly forsaken the most vulnerable children in PA by perpetuating a system of funding education that promotes inequity through an overreliance on property taxes. Kids in areas with weak property tax bases — mostly rural and urban areas — are not receiving the educational opportunities that their peers who are born in wealthier ZIP codes receive. No lawmaker should be comfortable supporting this inequitable, morally wrong system.

Everyone with an interest in public education and the future of our democracy must advocate for equity during this critical State budget process. Please join us in making your voice heard by calling, writing and visiting your legislators; writing letters to the editor and sharing your concerns with others, because silence is the enemy of progress. United as concerned citizens, there is nothing that we cannot accomplish.

Representatives of Concerned Women of Greater Carlisle: Jill Sunday Bartoli, Sonya Browne, Kathy Everett, Ella Forsyth, Barbara B. Green, Carlesha Green Halkias, Libby Hutcheson, Elaine Livas, Safronia Perry, Robin Scaer, Wendy Tibbetts, Judi Whitesell