Two Steps Forward, One Back

Yinzercation, 4/28/13

This is how you make progress. One step at a time. Last week, we saw two steps forward, and one giant step back for public education. The good news first:

On Thursday, Governor Corbett signed a much-needed new law that will help to fix the state’s special education funding formula. Sponsored by Republicans Rep. Bernie O’Neill and Sen. Pat Browne with strong bi-partisan support in both the House and Senate, House Bill 2 creates a new commission that will develop a formula taking into account actual numbers of special education students and their needs. Rhonda Brownstein, Executive Director of the Education Law Center, called the legislation “historic.” [Education Law Center, 4-26-13]

The Education Policy and Leadership Center explains, “The current formula assumes that the average daily enrollment of each district includes 16% of students with special needs. A new formula will aim to reflect actual costs incurred by districts and distribute the money accordingly.” The new commission will also make sure that school districts don’t over-identify the number of eligible students, and will take into account geographic variations in costs. The commission must make its report by September, and any formula they develop will not go into effect unless the General Assembly acts on it – and even then, the formula will only apply to the distribution of any increased funding. [EPLC, 4-26-13]

In another step forward, the House Education Committee last week held a public hearing on bullying and suicide prevention. [EPLC, 4-26-13] This is a significant issue that needs to be addressed as part of a larger conversation about school climate issues, with a particular focus on equity.

But just as we saw these forward steps, the House took a giant step back, approving a suite of corporate tax cuts proposed by Governor Corbett. Once in place, the tax breaks will cost us taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars – that’s hundreds of millions in lost revenue for the state and money that won’t be available to fund our public goods, including schools….

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