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Sect. Rivera, Quinones, Diaz, & Stack

Wolf Education Plan & The Basic Math

J.Smith/El Hispano

Philadelphia – Governor Tom Wolf’s proposed ‘Education Reinvestment Act,” was the subject of a two-hour hearing by the Pennsylvania House Democratic Policy Committee, Monday, held at Warren Harding H.S.  A dozen public officials and education advocates- including Helen Gym, founder of  Parents United for Public Education, Brett Schaeffer of the Education Law Center,  Councilwoman Maria Quinones Sanchez and Mayoral candidate Nelson Diaz, discussed a plan aimed at restructuring the tax system, reinvesting in schools and achieving what Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell called the goal of ‘world class education.”

The representative of the 7th district encompassing Harding High School, Councilwoman Maria Quinones Sanchez opened by denouncing the education cuts of the prior Corbett administration as a, “violation of basic guaranteed standards.”

Citing a litany of  damages caused by some $1 billion in reduced funding, the Seventh district Councilwoman noted that schools were forced to operate “without advisers to help process college applications;” without “nurses,” especially problematic for “students who depend on daily medications.” Also, the resulting layoff of teachers created “overcrowded classrooms.”

“These complaints of parents, teachers and students,” Ms. Quinones Sanchez added, “paint a portrait of a failure to provide the basic components of a safe learning environment.” Moreover, Councilwoman Quinones Sanchez argued that students in her district were “hit especially hard” by the state’s “failure to provide a fair funding formula proposed” by the Rendell administration.

Ms. Quinones Sanchez also called for reducing or “minimizing” the reliance on ‘testing” and for a “waiver” of testing imposed in order to graduate, arguing that the requirement wasted ‘scarce resources’ and “fails” to adequately measure academic abilities.

Councilman Curtis Jones agreed, suggesting that “poverty” has a “real impact on attendance, and a real impact on violence; so we need to look at the funding formula.”

Pennsylvania Education Secretary Pedro Rivera told the panel that Wolf’s proposal will increase the state’s share of funding for public education to fifty percent and cut property taxes by more than 50 percent for average homeowners.

Using charts that drew a comparison of state education funding with student performance, Secretary Rivera demonstrated that under former Governor Rendell school funding had risen from  $4.7 billion in 2005 to $6.7 billion in 2010.  And simultaneously, the proficiency in reading, across the state, climbed from 67% to 74%. The statewide data on math proficiency witnessed similar improvement, rising from 68% in 2005 to 77% in 2010.

By contrast, education funding in the Corbett administration initially dropped to $5.3 billion in 2011 and then increased incrementally to $5.6 billion by 2015. During that time, from 2011 to 2014, statewide reading proficiency declined from 74% to 70% and math proficiency fell from 77% to 72%.

The only Mayoral candidate making an appearance at the forum, Nelson Diaz argued for fair funding: “Which side of City Line you live on shouldn’t determine the quality of your education, but it ll too often does, that has to change.”

Calling for the elimination of the School Reform Commission and replacing it with an appointed School Board, Mr. Diaz said, “Under the SRC, Philadelphia’s schools are falling further and further behind.  The commission was created to reform our schools, but after 13 years there’s been no reform, only deepening dysfunction and a financial crisis.”

Mr. Diaz also recommended “wraparound services” that include summer school programs, after-school programs and food, health and mental health services. He also urged making early childhood education a priority.

Discussing the same Education Reinvestment Act at Ridley H.S., Lt. Gov. Mike Stack said the state has an opportunity this year to increase its investment in education: “For far too long, Pennsylvania has underfunded our schools, and this budget makes a historic investment in education,” Stack said. “Further, the state has failed to live up to its commitment to be a full financial partner with local school districts, and instead has shifted the costs onto the backs of local homeowners. Gov. Wolf’s budget fixes this.”

According to Stack, the Governor’s plan would restore the $1 billion in public education funding that had been in the last four years.

“Across our state, we have seen larger class sizes, fewer teachers, and vital programs eliminated or scaled back,” Stack said. “We should be investing more in our kids and schools, not less.  This is not only the right thing to do; it is also smart for our economy.”