Advocacy groups set goals in fight for education funding

by Charlotte Pope
Photo: Courtesy of EdVoters PA
Education Voters PA executive director Susan Gobreski (top right) meets with Lenfest Center staff members to provide background for work on local education issues.

For Philadelphia advocacy organizations aiming to influence Gov. Corbett’s education budget, the fight continues.

The governor’s proposed state budget for 2013-14 puts $90 million back into basic education. That’s a 1.7 percent increase, coming after a $900 million cut in 2011-12. Some advocates said what Corbett has put on the table is hardly enough. 

“What they are restoring to the budget is less than one-tenth of what was cut,” said Brett Schaeffer, communications director of the Education Law Center (ELC).

“That money is not being distributed using any kind of real formula, so it is not doing anything to close the funding gaps between wealthier and poorer districts. What it does is sustains the wealthier districts at a higher level while hurting the poorer districts with the greater need for resources,” he said.

Gov. Corbett says that his budget plan would provide an additional $1 billion over five years for schools through privatizing State Stores. But this proposal is given a small chance of getting through the General Assembly. Corbett also disputes advocates’ contentions that state aid has significantly decreased since he took office, attributing the reduction to the end of federal stimulus dollars.

Advocates say that use of a fair funding formula is key to achieving equity for District schools. According to an ELC report released in February, Pennsylvania is one of only three states that don’t have a formula to determine how education dollars are allocated. 

ELC is now working with Public Citizens for Children and Youth (PCCY), Education Voters of Pennsylvania, and other groups to persuade the state legislature to re-introduce a funding formula.

PCCY executive director Donna Cooper said that before the governor’s proposed budget was released, these groups discussed what would be considered a positive outcome. 

“We created a consensus that regardless of what the governor proposed, the threshold for whether it was good or bad was whether the governor restored at least a third of the cuts made over the last two years to public education, which would be $350 million, and whether the governor had proposed returning to a fair and equitable school funding formula,” Cooper said.

“Unfortunately the governor did not do either of those, so now we have to work with the legislature to move them toward that position.”

PCCY has been meeting with state legislators, school board officials, parents, and business leaders to cultivate support. Cooper said her organization and other groups are also mobilizing stakeholders to speak up for their school districts.

“This is a shared responsibility,” said Susan Gobreski, executive director of Education Voters Pennsylvania. “Every adult needs to step up right now. We need the superintendent and the SRC stepping up, we need the City Council and the mayor stepping up, and we need the legislature stepping up because we cannot build long-term programs for kids if the money is a temporary allocation.”