OP-ED: York City kids' future will determine York County's future
As a citizen of York County, I am deeply concerned with the severe program cuts and furloughs that are being proposed by the York City School District’s administration.
For the past year, we have heard about the progress made since the district was almost taken into receivership in 2013 and all York city children were nearly pushed into corporate charter schools. This would have been the first time in the nation that an entire school district was handed over to a corporation.
We don’t want to jeopardize the progress made by returning to those difficult days. But the proposed cuts to programs and staff could have similar consequences by driving students from the district and compounding the problems that the district has worked so hard to overcome.
The administration proposes major cuts to art, music, physical education and Spanish language classes, as well as other programs that benefit some of our most vulnerable student populations in York County.
Many of these cuts would directly impact class size and reduce the number of adults who directly interact with students. Teacher aides and behavioral support positions would be cut, further reducing vital one-on-one instruction for students.
Look, let’s get real. The city school district already cut to the bone years ago. We York County leaders and York County citizens need to stop screwing around and act on the Rusk Report. We need to confess our complicity in maintaining a core of poverty (poverty that statistics clearly show directly affects academic outcomes).
Rusk’s national and local data shows a near straight line correlation between poverty and academic performance. Leaders and citizens need to pull out the Rusk Report and admit what’s really going on here. We love our little boxes because it maintains separation. David Rusk called these little boxes “rocket fuel for separatism.”
We have a 19th century mindset in the 21st century. Our racism is holding us back. We need to wake out of our slumber and realize these kids in York city are our gold. They’re our future. Our economy down the road will only be as strong as the education of those kids. And yet we still insist on maintaining a system where a child’s zip code determines their future. What on earth is wrong with us?
Many questions about the actual finances of the city school system remain, including uncertainties raised by the administration in its own proposal. At this point, the administration still has not provided a clear financial picture based on actual spending and revenue. Additionally, despite district projections, it is too early to determine how much federal funding the district will receive.
York has already received $3.8 million in federal funding from the CARES Act. Also, Congress passed a funding bill that would provide $1 billion in emergency funding to Pennsylvania schools to offset revenue losses from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rather than take the administration’s financial projections and need for proposed cuts at face value, school board members should be asking tough questions and examining the budget at all levels to address potential cost savings — including personnel and program costs that don’t include direct instruction.
Research and common sense show that students learn best when they have fully staffed schools and education professionals to support them.
So, how can we as residents of York City and York County help the York City School District and its students?
1. Please contact your elected school board members and urge them to take an active role in analyzing the budget. You can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ask them to look at potential cuts that won’t reduce direct instruction or increase class sizes. Urge them to look for solutions before taking any action prematurely that could negatively and unnecessarily impact the York City schools and the students who depend on it.
2. York City is the canary in the coal mine. Without increased federal funding, all school districts across York County could face shortfalls due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials estimates that declines in earned income tax and other local revenue could leave K-12 school districts with a combined deficit of as much as $1 billion in 2020-21.
The Pennsylvania House and Senate have approved a state budget that maintains 2019-20 school funding levels for our public schools and higher education, an important first step to filling local revenue deficits due to the COVID-19 emergency.
Unfortunately, this funding won’t eliminate the budget gaps.
Please let our U.S. senators know we need them to step up now and help bridge this gap so that our schools are able to reopen safely by passing a $175 billion in emergency education aid bill.
Our students in York deserve the same opportunities as those in other school districts. Separate but equal is not equal. Separate but underfunded is even worse. Cut by cut, we’re slowly turning into a southern town in the 1950s. It really is death by a thousand cuts.
These cuts would have a severe impact on York City children’s education and their future. And that has a direct impact on the future of our entire county. If we don’t start telling the truth and acting on it, the world is going to pass York County by.
— Bill Swartz is a resident of Spring Garden Township.