Uniontown Herald-Standard: “School officials fear governor’s funding distribution proposal could be ‘crippling’”

Wolf’s Plan So Awful The News Outlet Needed To Write Two Separate Articles To Capture The Full Criticism It Is Receiving

Lawmakers and local school officials from the western part of the commonwealth today added to the growing chorus of opposition to Governor Wolf’s new education proposal, which would cut over $1 billion from 362 school districts.

As the Uniontown Herald -Standard reported, a number of superintendents in the area are speaking out strongly against Wolf’s plan:

“Local school officials used the words “devastating” and “crippling” to describe the potential effects of a proposal by Gov. Tom Wolf to amend the way state funds are distributed to public schools.

Shortly after finalizing a new $32.7 billion state budget and allocating funds to school districts for the 2018-19 school year at the end of June, Wolf announced during an event in Philadelphia that he wants to distribute 100 percent of the state’s basic education funding through the revised basic education formula.

“We’d have to close up shop as a school district,” said David McDonald, interim superintendent of the Connellsville Area School District.

“It’s our task to provide a world-class education for our kids. Not only could you not do that, but you couldn’t keep the doors open,” McDonald said.

Laurel Highlands Superintendent Dr. Jesse Wallace said such a cut would “grossly challenge” his district’s ability to effectively operate.

“I would find it very hard for our district to operate on 24 percent less funding,” said Wallace. He said Laurel Highlands would not be able to provide state-of-the-art programs and employ exceptional faculty needed to prepare students for post-graduation.

Hypothesizing on the effects of large-scale reductions to funding, Wallace said, “We would be put in a position where we would have to cease operation of programs, class sizes would get bigger and the quality of education would diminish because we wouldn’t be able to keep up with 21st century standards.”

The basic education funding formula was enacted in an attempt to bring equitable funding to the state’s 500 school districts by applying weights to certain socioeconomic factors.

If Wolf’s proposal to distribute all basic ed. funding through the formula would be implemented, 357 of the state’s 500 school districts would see funding cuts.

Denise Sheetz, business manager at the Albert Gallatin Area School District, said her district relies on the state for more than 70 percent of its annual funding. A 30 percent cut in state funding would be “a big hit to us,” she said.

For area districts, the fair funding formula “isn’t really fair,” said Albert Gallatin Superintendent Chris Pegg, who described rural districts and districts with declining enrollment as already being underfunded. Enacting Wolf’s proposal would “devastate” those districts, he said.

“I don’t know how districts like ours would survive without putting class sizes to 35 and furloughing 40 people,” Pegg said. “Then you’re diminishing the quality of education you’re able to provide, so everything we work to try to do to provide a quality education would be out the window with that proposal.”’

Read the full article HERE.

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One story did not provide enough room for the Uniontown Herald-Standard to capture all the blowback Wolf’s plan is facing in its coverage market. In a separate peace this morning lawmakers also criticized the proposal:

“I’m not sure the governor thought this idea through,” said Rep. Justin Walsh, R-Westmoreland, who added if the proposal would be implemented, 357 of the state’s 500 public school districts would see moderate to significant state funding cuts, including most districts in Westmoreland County. “This is not equitable or acceptable.”

Rep. Matthew Dowling, R-Fayette/Somerset, said the proposal will not only hurt local school districts, but the students and community as well.

“While I am in full support of school districts receiving as much state funding as possible, this proposal, if enacted, would drastically cut state funding for our local school districts by up to 50 percent,” Dowling said. “By putting all of the education funding through the Fair Funding Formula, it will only benefit growing school districts and hurt districts that are seeing declines in enrollment.”

Rep. Pam Snyder, D-Greene/Fayette/Washington said Wolf’s proposal would be “immediately devastating” to school districts in southwestern Pennsylvania.

“Harrisburg should be discussing how to fairly fund our schools so that students in rural, less populated areas can receive the same education as wealthy and urban students,” said Snyder. “No student should have their education and opportunities penalized because of their zip code.”

“Interestingly, one of the biggest winners under his proposal is Philadelphia, which would receive a $344 million increase,” Walsh said, adding he’s committed to work against the proposal. “Our teachers already face a difficult job working to support all levels of learning in one classroom. This plan would result in many losing their jobs and larger class sizes for those remaining, thus making their work even more challenging.”

Snyder said the conversation in Harrisburg should not be how to split up the money, but how to make more money available to public school districts while eliminating property taxes.

“Our kids deserve a good education just as much as the students in Philadelphia and the suburbs,” she said. “Pennsylvania ranks at the bottom of the nation in state school funding, and I won’t support anything that supports cuts in my schools.”

Read the full article HERE.

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And back east, even the Philadelphia Inquirer  this morning was noting the issues involving Wolf’s plan, saying it:
  • “would benefit poorer districts, like Philadelphia, and others where student needs and enrollments have grown, but could require cuts to others. That can become problematic.” 
The Governor now has his back against the wall in the school funding debate to such an extent that his only line of defense, as mentioned by Watchdog, is to claim that his support of HB2051 doesn’t indicate he wants to cut education funding overall – just the funding of certain schools (362 to be exact):
  • “Wolf, for his part, has insisted that he hasn’t proposed to cut school funding, which, while true on a statewide basis, doesn’t address the fact that HB2051 would massively boost or cut the funds for various districts.”
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