As the school year ends and students hit the road for summer vacation, I think it is fair to say if Pennsylvanians -- students, parents, educators and taxpayers -- were able to grade Gov. Tom Corbett on his education policies, they'd give him an F.
For the third year, the Republican-backed state budget proposal axes education funding across the board. Early childhood programs, higher learning and career schools, science-based curriculum, improvements to aging school buildings -- nothing is safe in the GOP's spending plan.
The chronic underfunding our schools have endured during the Corbett administration have already had huge impacts on students, their families, property taxpayers and educators, resulting in nearly 20,000 layoffs, larger class sizes and fewer course offerings.
But these cuts will have dire and long-lasting consequences on Pennsylvania's future workforce and our state's bottom line.
Start with early childhood education, which is receiving $50 million less than it did in 2010. Studies indicate that a relatively small investment in early childhood programs pays dividends in the future: For every $1 spent, $7 is saved. Access to these programs reduces a person's likelihood of incarceration, which costs taxpayers over $35,000 a year, compared to $2,722 for early childhood programs.
As one of only two states without a funding formula, Pennsylvania has fallen behind in equitably funding basic education. As a result, property taxes around the commonwealth have skyrocketed to compensate for cuts from the state and districts have exhausted their reserves. Adding insult to injury, wealthier school districts have repeatedly received smaller cuts than districts in poorer areas.
Further, school districts around the commonwealth wanting to take advantage of historically low construction and supply costs and make needed improvements to their facilities have gone without promised reimbursements from the state. Seventy-five percent of these improvements will drive down operating costs for utilities and maintenance. However, because the state has failed to pay its share and has placed a moratorium on planning and construction funds, many of these districts are forced to borrow additional money or raise taxes on local property owners.
Pennsylvania's State System of Higher Education also has not been spared by Gov. Corbett. While Republicans claim higher education is "level funded" under their plan, that level funding follows back-to-back years of a 19 percent cut.
Our colleges are economic generators and often the largest employers in their communities. But when tuition grows, students have less to spend at local businesses; when maintenance on campus facilities is deferred, construction workers sit idle; and fewer course offerings attract fewer students and prominent professors. Some students don't even complete their degree and sadly Pennsylvania now ranks second in the nation in student loan debt.
For three years I've heard the Republican claims of record education funding and budgets with no tax increases, but saying something over and over again doesn't make it true.
The truth is what any school administrator, student, teacher, parent or taxpayer can tell you. There is less funding for education coming from the state now than there was in the past. And that has resulted in program cuts, larger class sizes, teacher layoffs and higher local taxes due to the Corbett and Republicans' "priorities."
-- State Rep. Mike Sturla is a Democrat representing the 96th Legislative District.