Educators speak out against Mastriano's proposed cuts to school funding

Meredith Willse
York Dispatch

A Central York High School teacher thinks state senator and GOP gubernatorial nominee Doug Mastriano's proposed spending cuts on education could be detrimental to his school.

Mastriano spoke earlier this year about a plan to cut per-student education funding in an interview with Altoona-based radio station WRTA. He proposed cutting funding from $19,000 to $9,000 per student and giving the money to the students rather than the school districts. 

The Pennsylvania State Education Association asked Mastriano for more information, which he did not provide. Based on his statements, the association figured out the plan would cut roughly 120,000 educators statewide due to a $13 billion budget cut. York County would lose about 3,682 educators, based on PSEA’s numbers. 

“We would lose an increased amount of our funding, and our student-teacher ratios would go up 89%,” said Central York High School English and performing arts teacher Ben Hodge during a Wednesday news conference at Cousler Park in Manchester Township. 

Central York is looking at a possible 31% decline in revenue, dropping from $93 billion to $64 billion, according to the PSEA. The district currently has 680 staffers and could drop 45% of the staff, down to 375, if the plan is put into place.

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Ben Hodge, EA member and theater arts teacher, speaking at the PSEA press conference regarding Doug Mastriano's proposed educational plan in York on Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2022.

On Wednesday, officials including PSEA President Rich Askey, National Education Association President Becky Pringle and local educators spoke to raise awareness about the cuts locally. 

Askey said the community deserves to know what Mastriano’s plan could look like, especially since the candidate isn't explaining it further.

“Our analysis is completely transparent, accessible and public — unlike Sen. Mastriano’s plan,” he said. 

Askey said “the results are nothing short of devastating.” 

“It’s hard to imagine how public schools would even function,” he said. 

Hodge, who has been teaching for over 20 years, said that based on his experience, the cuts could be detrimental, and the parents, students and community cannot afford the consequences. 

Hodge said that currently there are 112 teachers in his building, but if Mastriano's cuts happened, there would be 77. 

“Thirty-five wonderful teachers I’ve taught with for years would be gone,” he said, adding that the students would be “jammed into crowded classrooms.”

Hodge said the schools and students couldn't function like that. 

In addition, there would be a loss of opportunities because a school district with those cuts may not be able to fund activities such as music, art and sports. 

“I worry for the 125 students who are currently enrolled in my performing arts electives that I currently teach,” he said. “If these funds are cut, electives are often the first things to go.”

He said districts could also cut extracurricular programming.

His classes and other electives and extracurriculars are the biggest connection to school for many of his students, he said. 

Hodge recalled one of his students who said last year that the acting classes were the only reason why she got up in the mornings and went to school. He recalled her saying the classes provided a safe space for her to collaborate creatively with other students and learn how to express emotions to an audience. 

Missy Gilbert, ESP president and special education instructional assistant, speaking at the PSEA press conference regarding Doug Mastriano's proposed educational plan in York on Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2022.

Seeing her go from a shy, timid student to performing three roles in a class play was one of the high points of Hodge's year, he said. He said she learned leadership skills and gained a confidence boost from the class. 

Losing such classes could leave students without similar opportunities and make them less interested in school. 

“Is that what we want?” he asked. 

Hodge is aware that many who take his performing classes may not become actors. However, there are still benefits to the class, he said — such as communicating well, collaborating with others and having confidence in their abilities. 

“Performing arts classes matter,” he said. “Music education matters. World language classes matter. The core classes are extremely important, but so are electives.”

And electives would be the first to get cut, Hodge said.

He said to prepare students for the demands of the current workplace, schools need to keep more electives in the system and not put themselves in a position where cuts like those Mastriano has proposed might happen.

“We hope that the Central York community will let Sen. Mastriano know that his plan is something that we don’t want here,” he said. “Ever.”

Another speaker, Missy Gilbert, said she doesn't know where her son, who has special needs, would be today if it weren’t for the educators who made a difference in his life. 

The educators helped him not only in academics but also socially and emotionally, and one staff member even attended his birthday party — which was her son's one request that year. 

“That is how much of a connection they had,” she said, explaining that the bond is what inspired her to become a paraprofessional.

Gilbert, who is a Central York special education instructional assistant and president of the Central York education support professional association, pointed out that the association has more than 300 support staffers in the district, from cafeteria workers to custodians to instructional assistants. 

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Without them, the students would be in dirty and unsanitized buildings, Gilbert said, and many students would go hungry because of a lack of food at home. The students would also lack the extra attention the support staff gives the students that tells the students they believe in them. 

She asked who would provide extra attention or offer social and emotional support to students if those jobs were cut.

“These cuts would especially harm my students in the special education realm,” she said, adding that she doesn't think that's what parents or the community wants. 

— Reach Meredith Willse at or on Twitter at @MeredithWillse.

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