HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Pennsylvanians who are concerned about rising school taxes should take their complaints to local school boards, not the state government, Gov. Tom Corbett said Wednesday.
“I think the taxpayers need to help themselves,” Corbett replied when a caller on Philadelphia’s Talk Radio 1210 WPHT asked what can be done to help ease the pressures on taxpayers.
In his monthly appearance on the Dom Giordano Program, the Republican governor suggested that excessively small class sizes and overly generous contracts with teachers’ unions are part of the reason many school districts are struggling financially.
“I would love to see the taxpayers speaking up at the school board meetings” he said.
The current state budget slashed spending for public education by hundreds of millions of dollars, and Corbett has proposed tens of millions in additional cuts for the budget that starts July 1.
The governor said that, when the cost of teacher pensions is included, state funding for public schools is at a record high. He said those pension costs will rise from $1.6 billion to over $4 billion in the next four years.
The Democratic minority in the state House of Representatives has said it’s misleading to count the pension contribution since it is unrelated to students’ education and masks the depth of the cuts in spending on academics.
Responding to Corbett’s comments, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania School Boards Association said schools are “doing everything in their authority to stay within budget and still provide an excellent education,” such as increasing class sizes, eliminating programs and services, freezing wages, furloughing staff and setting up pay-to-play options to finance extracurricular activities.
“In light of these tight budgets, the state needs to step forward and provide relief from unfunded mandates that divert hundreds of millions of dollars away from the classroom, such as prevailing wage requirements,” said spokesman Steve Robinson.
A spokesman for the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the state’s largest teacher union, said that Corbett’s criticism is unfounded and that people concerned about the quality of education already are speaking out against the program cuts resulting from the cuts in state aid.
“What we’re seeing across Pennsylvania is cuts to programs that work for students,” said the spokesman, David Broderic.
The state Democratic Party said Corbett should “stop blaming other people for his tax increases.”
“Tom Corbett’s massive budget cuts will raise taxes for middle-class Pennsylvanians while eliminating important school programs that help Pennsylvania students get the education they need to enter the workforce,” party spokesman Mark Nicastre said in an email.
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