Governor Tom tells tall tales. Here is Tom’s Top Twelve Tall Tale Number Ten – We don’t need no education.
Awesome Floyd tune; awful policy. In this year’s budget, the Republican house, senate and governor eliminated $550,000,000.00 in basic education. Here’s what this means to Harrisburg: William Penn Elementary School and Steele Elementary will close. Shimmel, an alternative education school, is a distinct possibility. Harrisburg will lose more than 150 teachers, 22 administrators, and 39 support staff. And raise taxes.
Here’s what budget cuts of over half a billion dollars in basic education means to every one: the cost of educating students will fall disproportionately on the poor school districts. Rich districts will make up the loss by increasing property taxes. Poor districts will not be able to make up the difference and will simply suffer.
When poor districts cannot make up the difference, two things happen, both bad.
One, when the amount of money spent per pupil is not equal, students from poor school districts are denied equal opportunity to learn and succeed. Not only is this immoral, it is quite harmful to individuals as well as to society as a whole because of a phenomenon called regression.
What is regression? Glad you asked.
Did you ever wonder why Prince Charles, the next king of England, wasn’t smarter, better looking, or better anything for that matter? Think of it, this guy is the product of the best breeding, the highest blood line, the best genetic pool on the planet. The result? Well, he’s clearly no rocket scientist, has a sardonic face sandwiched in between two open-taxi-cab-door ears, and wore his mistress’ cuff links while on the royal honeymoon with Princess Di. So much for elite blood lines and breeding.
There’s a positive side to regression – some incredibly bright people come from the hoi polloi, the many, the great unwashed, the commoners, in other words, you and me. When children in poor districts suffer, that is to say, when they do not have equal opportunity, we all suffer because a human mind is wasted.
Thomas Jefferson understood this when he wrote “All men are created equal …” and so does Lebanon Valley College, Gov. Corbett’s alma mater. While at LVC, part of my administrative duties was to work with a wonderful program called Lebanon Valley Education Partnership (LVEP). LVEP took kids from the Lebanon City School District who were doing well in school, matched them with college student mentors, and, if they kept their grades up, gave them scholarships to Lebanon Valley College. Once in college, the LVEP scholars took the same courses as everyone else, worked as hard as everyone else, and sweated out math exams from Prof. Dewald, just like everyone else. There was no special treatment, just equal opportunity for students whose parents were poor and not poor. It works and it benefits society. Enormously.
When poor district cannot make up the difference, a second bad thing tends to happen in many school districts: budget cuts fall disproportionally on the so-called “minor” subjects – music, art, and physical education, because they are not as important as “major” subjects such as reading, math, and science. And so, the thinking, what little there is, goes like this: “Why do we have minor subjects at all? Let’s save a buck!” The usual justification for “minor subjects” is they “round a person out.” This is certainly a valid reason for keeping art, music, and phys. ed. in the curriculum. However, it is not the only reason. Music, art, and phys. ed. have an even more important function in a child’s education: they support and strengthen critical and creative thinking skills. Stated simply, I never met a stupid musician. Neither have you.
Music, art, and phys. ed. impart a third important benefit to society – they help students stay in school and become productive citizens. A kid with a clarinet is more interested in learning the fingering than how to load a clip. A young person in a band uniform doesn’t have time to join a gang. A young artist with a paint brush in her or his hand, is less likely to be tagging with a spray can. A kid on the football team prefers to hit the gym rather than the bong.
The governor’s elimination of $550,000,000 in basic education is not only disastrous to the long term wellbeing of our citizens, it also appears to be only the first round. On December 21, 2011, Budget Secretary Charles Zogby projected a $500 million shortfall in state’s general fund budget and that the administration “will likely freeze some expenses.” He also stated, “I am not working under any assumption that I have additional revenue options.”
What cuts will we likely see in the next round? Will it be cuts in the annual, automatic pay raise for the legislature? Nope, their pay raises are enshrined in the 1995 law that gives an automatic pay raise on December 5 to all of the aforementioned folks. This year’s annual pay raise means legislators will make $82,026, in addition to their per diems. Howsabout a freeze on automatic pay raises? Not gonna happen. How about a cut in Gov. Corbett’s salary? Nope. See above. Is there anything coming into the public coffers from Mrs. Terry Peruga from Boca Raton whose husband was the CEO of a drilling company who wanted to come into the state? Mrs. Peruga gave Gov. Corbett $180,000 to his political campaign, maybe there’s something for the kids. Nah, not a dime. How about sharing the pain a little bit by making some budget cuts in the legislative staff similar to those experienced by public schools, say cutting more than 150 legislators, 22 legislative assistants, and 39 support staff? Not hardly. What about a tax on the gas producing well heads from one of the largest fields on earth in the only state that does not tax natural gas? Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! The boy at Burger King making minimum wage and voting Republican, is going to pay more taxes in one week than all the gas companies combined in one hundred years.
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