Five York County legislators spoke Friday on their goals for education - and what hurdles stand in their way.
Charter schools, privatizing state liquor stores, property taxes and more were discussed as part of a United Way legislative breakfast at the YMCA Graham Aquatic Center.
Reps. Stan Saylor, Ron Miller, Mike Regan and Seth Grove, all Republicans joined Sens. Lloyd Smucker, a Republican, and Rob Teplitz, a Democrat, as each gave a short speech and then answered some audience questions.
Several lawmakers touched on the governor's recently proposed budget that called for a $90 million increase in basic education funding, additional early childhood education funding and level higher education funding.
"I think the governor's proposal is a great start," said Saylor. "It's one I like a lot better than the last two."
Countered Teplitz: "I believe the state is on the wrong track when it comes to public education. It looks at it as just another cost ... versus an investment that we shouldn't be afraid to make."
Teplitz also criticized the budget proposal by the governor to privatize the state liquor system and use the revenue to create a new education funding stream directed at school safety, early childhood education, individualized learning programs and science, technology, engineering and mathematics instruction. Corbett has said if the Legislature doesn't approve the plan, he wouldn't be willing to increase basic education funding as proposed.
"I think the budget sets up a number of wrong choices. Either privatize liquor or give a modest increase to education," Teplitz said.
Regan, though, said he's in favor of the idea because it sets up a new funding stream to get more security in schools. Regan added he's working on a bill to get armed police officers in schools; Corbett's proposal would allow some liquor revenue to be used to pay for the officers.
Funding schools: But what got most of the discussion was the school funding formula, whether it's school districts relying on property taxes or the way cyber and brick-and-mortar charter schools tuition is calculated.
Grove said he wants to see a change to the special education funding formula in particular. Districts get special education funding based on 16 percent of their students being in special education (the state average).
That works fine if a school actually has 16 percent, but if they have 20 percent in special education, they aren't getting enough funding, and if they only have 12 percent, they make out like bandits, he said.
"Is that fair? Should we not have a funding formula that actually represents the needs of the school district?" Grove said.
Cyber schools need a funding overhaul as well, he added, noting how cyber schools get a double payment for pension costs under the current formula, among other inequities. Districts have to factor in 100 percent of pension contribution costs when calculating tuition contributions to charters, even though the state reimburses charters for half of their pension costs.
Smucker and Miller both expressed concern with the basic structure of funding schools through property taxes It doesn't make sense, Smucker said, that some districts make off so much better than others.
"Your zip code shouldn't determine the quality of education you're entitled to receive," Smucker said.
Miller took it all a step further, saying Pennsylvania needs to "blow up the system" of education being funded by taxpayers living within a district's borders. He said he's pushing for a "foundation system," with a set number of dollars going to every child for parents to use to pay tuition at the school of their choice.
But that would take a long time to come to fruition, he said. So in the meantime, the start of the process has been the Educational Improvement Tax Credit, a program that gets businesses to donate tax-deductible funds to give at-risk students scholarships to K-12 schools.
A bigger overhaul is needed, but a stubborn truth remains, Miller said.
"We can never unlink students versus the taxpayers," Miller said.
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