Governor Tom Wolf is battling for fair funding for Public Education. It’s an epic battle in Pennsylvania and just one example of the war on Public Education all across America.
There are similar battlefronts in Detroit, Chicago, Seattle, Los Angeles, New York, New Orleans, Massachusetts, Georgia, Tennessee, Ohio, Florida, and many more. “Coming soon to a district near you”… The war will confront us all.
Staring this battle in the face, in spite of the facts that legislators have failed to propose an acceptable budget, and that the budget is eight long months late, Governor Wolf stands resolutely against politicians’ attempts to further debase public education in PA. Education operations are already decimated from hundreds of millions of dollars slashed by the previous governor.
The issues go deeper than money. They include how the budget is allocated to districts. They also include politicians trying to increase their own micromanagement of individual schools.
Politicians have failed in Philadelphia Schools. So…close schools?
In the specific example of Philadelphia, PA, politicians have a clear, 15-year track record “managing” a School District. Their record is one of stunningly consistent academic starvation with simultaneous fiscal disaster.
Fifteen years ago, the State created the School Reform Commission (SRC) to take away local control from Philadelphia in order to “alleviate financial distress”.
Since 2001, the State has appointed the majority of SRC members. The SRC has hired multiple “outsider” CEOs with multiple organizational structures. Results? CEOs have come. CEOs have gone. The School District operating budget is now described as a “Doomsday” budget (for the past 3 years). Teachers have been working without a contract since 2013. Thousands of children are without regular teachers. “Equal access” funding is missing. Teaching staff is at all-time lows. Vacant positions remain unfilled. Substitute teachers decline to work here. Class sizes increase. Course offerings only decrease. Building conditions are atrocious, even dangerous. Philadelphia charter school approvals mushroomed to one-third of total schools, draining public funds disproportionately without public consent. Those same charters exclude (or expel) students with higher costs-to-serve, which must then be served in public schools. School District bonds are now junk. Politicians’ persistent, precise underfunding of Public Education, in Philadelphia in particular, is a prime cause of our condition. A contrived disaster.
Silence and inaction “normalize” this methodical destruction of Public Education.
Now, part of the Senate’s latest “solution” is to amend the State School Code (H.B. 530) to require the State to directly takeover or close five individual schools every year. This further political invasion of education is an arrogant, punitive attack on our one district. Politicians making decisions and laws about academics and schools instead of the experts: educators?
Representatives separately propose(H.B.1327) destroying the ‘fair funding’ formula , an allocation system based on incremental costs of some student groups (details HERE). It was developed last summer by the Basic Education Funding Commission (BEFC). The BEFC’s fair funding formula was an overdue response to Pennsylvania’s current system of “base funding”, which ranks worst in the nation for fairness.
It’s not like we’ve asked for Cadillac funding. As one example from ‘base funding’: my elementary school students have been using the same reading curriculum and textbooks for more than 13 years.
Nevertheless, PA politicians want to force more and more state-level bureaucracy into sectors where the State is ignorant and has in fact, already failed, year after year.
It is impossible to continue silently enduring simplistic views of learning and teaching practice (by non-practitioners). Politicians’ simplistic “solution pills” to “fix” education, instead continue generating more and more collateral damage: academic damage, systemic damage, financial damage, social damage, personal damage, and more.
Is the School District better off today, or worse off, after 15 years of State management?
I ask, “What secret solution does the State have?”
Newsflash: There is no simplistic, quick fix, or someone would have done it long ago.
There are no capital programs, no curriculum programs, no materials or supplies, no teacher incentives or punishments, no longer hours, no charter business plans, and no “common core” or “standardized” testing program, nor even school closings that start at the center of the learning process. Instead they all focus on the periphery.
Learners, the children, are the center.
Learning is a complex, personal process. The learning process and its timeline for children varies infinitely, as does human experience.
Facilitating learning, or “teaching”, the wide range of learners and learning styles and learning paces which can be found in a typical Public School classroom is an art, a “practice”.
Teaching is an achievement of experienced professional experts. It takes highly trained, highly competent people to work with people — work with 30 people, every day, in one room, all day, day-after-day — facilitating ever faster learning.
Whether we choose to accept the truth, or adopt the pol’s simplistic view of children and teachers (people) as ‘widgets’ defines the battle. See “Translate this” blogpost.
Complexity: Widgets or people?
As one single example of one key complexity (there are many others), children in our Public School classrooms have massive rates of trauma, described by a U.S. Department of Justice report as an “epidemic” and by past Surgeon Generals as “national crisis.”
One part to understand is that childhood trauma affects all classrooms. Childhood trauma includes childhood abuse, neglect and household dysfunction. For a narrative view (“Peek Inside a Classroom”) click HERE.
Childhood Trauma is an injury to a child. It is not an issue of good/bad behavior. It is not poverty. It is not an ‘urban issue’. It is not a ‘color issue’. It affects every city and every suburb. The CDC’s prodigious study was fielded in beautiful, suburban San Diego.
Public health research illuminates shocking rates of childhood trauma. Rates as high as English Language Learner (ELL) percentages and as high as those students with Individual Education Plans (IEP). Across our city, the rate of childhood trauma is higher than the combination of IEPs and ELLs. Tens of thousands of trauma-impacted children here, 35 million children, nationally. Dramatically more than can be accommodated by individual ‘504 Plans,’ given current staffing.
Students with IEPs and ELLs are funded and accommodated. Childhood trauma is not. Systemic ignorance or inaction is reality for tens of millions of children. (Click here for more : “Failing Schools or Failing Paradigm?“)
The net result: trauma-impacted children are blocked from equal access to an equal quality, public education. That is morally wrong. That is a blatant civil rights violation.
Just one example of complexity.
Political action would be correctly served by protecting civil rights of children now being denied equal access.
All these children are coming to our classrooms in a few hours.
We need training, resources, strategies and support to teach each of them. Putting politicians from the state more directly in charge has not — and will not — solve anything.
We are Public Education. Stop shooting at us. Join with us.
Governor Wolf is an amazing breath of fresh air in a national ocean of “contrived failure” claims about Public Education.
Wolf’s battle to restore Public Education, as a vibrant, funded, civil right is all our battle, in the one, same national war. It’s crucial that we all join to support his unique, and difficult, principled stand for Public Education.
Now more than ever.
We can do it. Add your voice. Call or write the politicians in this battle.
Ask politicians to produce an adequate budget which fairly allocates funding for Public Education. Reject amendments to H.B.s 530 and 1327.
From out-of-state? write the Co-chairs of the BEFC HERE.
More ways to join the battle:
Email form: https://www.governor.pa.gov/contact/
PA Legislator link: http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/home/findyourlegislator/
“Dear politician, or Dear BEHC,
As an ardent supporter of Public Education, I enlist in Governor Wolf’s epic battle to defend Public Education and to forge fair allocation of adequate funding. It’s a battle for us all. Reject amendments to H.B.s 530 and 1327. It’s time to get to work. Produce a fair budget.
Governor Tom Wolf, (717) 787-2500
Speaker of the House Rep. Mike Turzai, (717) 772-9943
House Majority Leader Rep. Dave Reed, (717) 705-7173
Senate President Pro Tempore Sen. Joe Scarnati,