John Hanger: “Save Our Schools” (West Chester, June 26)

Why are people already talking about an election that happens next year?

All you need to do is peruse “Polls show Gov. Corbett’s popularity numbers shrinking,” in Capital Watch, July 2013:

In recent days, polls have shown that Tom Corbett is in big trouble in 2014. He is unpopular with Republicans, Democrats, and Independents. Republicans who plan to vote in the 2014 GOP primary want another candidate, and Pennsylvanians are ready to send Tom Corbett packing in the 2014 general election….

One of those polls, conducted by Public Policy Polling in March, sums it up by its press release title “Corbett in dire shape for reelection.” It shows Corbett trailing several possible challengers, even those with little name recognition. Corbett’s popularity is about half that of neighboring Republican governor Chris Christie, who most recently scored 70% in a Rutgers poll.

John Hanger, who in the PPP poll led Corbett by 7%, visited West Chester on June 26 to promote his views on the issue of most importance to him: education. For his online summary of his views, see that section of his web site.

Although environment is Hanger’s greatest area of expertise (he was President of PennFuture and Secretary of the PA Department of Environmental Protection), he has led with education, clearly a subject of great importance in our area (just see the Daily Local News’ almost daily articles on school districts’ attempts to maintain educational levels and balance budgets).

To stress his commitment to public school education, in the last week of June Hanger conducted a bus stop tour of several locations in the southeastern part of the state; see “Governor candidate makes stop in W. Chester” in the 6/28 Daily Local. (In Chester County, he also stopped in Phoenixville.)

So of course, I took notes as Hanger spoke from the platform at the back of his bus parked on South Church St. in the midst of West Chester University; and I will paste in at the end the statements made by two West Chester University faculty members. Summarizing Hanger’s formal remarks:

Save our Schools!

The state has significantly reduced funding for public universities, and their tuition is rising.

K-12 funding is suffering from a crisis of choice, not of necessity. Wouldn’t you think leaders would try to make up for budget cuts when times get better? Not the current governor, who actually doesn’t believe in public education.

Corbett manufactured the funding crisis, cutting a billion dollars from K-12 education [see note 1, below], resulting in 19,000 jobs lost in education. Layoffs’ ripple effect hurts all community businesses (like restaurants), so the total job loss is more like 30,000. Corbett didn’t have to do this; he chose to put $600,000,000 into a rainy day fund and cut business taxes by $300,000,000.

And Corbett has given a blank check to charter schools; there is little transparency or quality control. The available data are disturbing: 71% of PA charter schools (and 100% of PA cyber charters) don’t meet federal student performance standards. Meanwhile, the funds are drained out of public school budgets. The state is hurting local schools to benefit less-achieving charters.

A study from Stanford University yesterday showed that PA’s charter schools are the second worst in the country (after Nevada’s). Buyer beware of PA charters! Their students learn the equivalent of 50 days less in reading and 29 days less in math. [see note 2 below]

The state should stop funding poorly performing charter schools; they need to be held accountable.

The Governor thinks attacking education and health care adds jobs! Obviously not, because in 2010 PA was 7th in job creation in all states, and now is in the bottom 5. PA added 4,700 jobs in the last 12 months, fewer than Delaware.

Students come to West Chester University for education and job training; if they become unemployed, the problem sits in the governor’s office.

We need to hold the state government accountable, tax natural gas extraction, expand Medicare, move to more clean energy, and proceed with a workable jobs plan.

(End of Hanger’s remarks. In response to questions, he added that most traditional public education is highly successful; struggling schools are not the norm; and the current Governor is actually making teachers’ jobs harder.)

[note 1] PA has had a long-standing reluctance to fund K-12 public education adequately. This chart from “Funding, Formulas, and Fairness: What Pennsylvania Can Learn From Other States’ Education Funding Formulas,” Education Law Center, Feb. 2013, shows pre-Corbett comparative funding data for 2009-10:

PA K-12 funding sources

As 2012 156th State House candidate Bret Binder pointed out at this event, Governor Rendell commissioned a study that supported the state raising its share of public education expenses to 50%. At the end of Rendell’s two terms in office, the actual investment had risen to 45%, but now it has fallen to 37%.

[note 2] If I understand the CREDO (Stanford) report properly, the references in this paragraph are to the growth from 3rd to 4th grades in traditional public schools and charter schools, comparing spring 2010 to 2011, as reflected in figures 24 and 25. The figures show that at the same time those charter students’ growth lagged, overall PA growth from 3rd to 4th grades in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) data was on the high side. Thus, PA results wold look even better without charter schools. Nationally, the NAEP report for 2011 shows substantial improvement in 4th and 8th grade scores fro 1d990 to 2011.

In among Q&A’s with Hanger, two WCU faculty addressed the following remarks to the candidate, encouraging him (and other candidates as well) to increase state support for public education.

Remarks by Kim Doan, WCU College of Education

As someone who has taught in K-12 education and now trains future teachers, I am delighted to hear that Mr. Hanger supports public education. This is crucial because of events that have occurred recently. We all know that the Philadelphia School District plans to close 37 schools (as of 6/26; this number is now 23 schools) in the fall. Many jobs will be lost and thousands of students will be displaced and moved to schools far from home.

In Chester-Upland, the situation isn’t any better. The district has already closed an elementary school and plans to close two high schools, one of which is a STEM high school focusing on math and science. In Mifflin County, the district “closed 5 of its 13 schools, laid off 11 percent of its staff including 33 teachers, and reduced course offerings,” cutting Advanced Placement classes. Class sizes there have increased by 7 to 10 students. In Pittsburgh, which closed 7 schools in 2011 and 20 schools total since 2004, the buildings that remain are an average of 78 years old. These buildings and many more throughout the state need many costly repairs, yet our teachers go in every day to educate children in buildings that would be condemned by OSHA for safety issues if they were a work place.

In school districts that are not closing schools, the measures they have chosen to adopt are drastic. The Reading School District has proposed to reduce special education services, reduce ALL full day Kindergarten to half day programs, reduce sports programs, reduce counseling services, reduce reading and math specialists, reduce funding for music and band programs. Yes, I know I used the word “reduce” multiple times. These small increments add up.

In Lancaster, the district has cut staff positions and library hours as well as eliminated small classes for struggling readers. In York, the district has cut art, music, and gym teachers at the elementary schools, forcing the teachers who are left to teach these subjects… when they are not trained to do so. The high school class sizes there are reaching 40. In Avon Grove, a colleague of mine who works at the high school there told me that they went from having 6 aides to work with students with disabilities to just one aide. That means, many children are not getting the help they need because one aide isn’t enough and the teachers just can’t be everywhere.
I could probably go on and on, naming specific school districts and the cuts they’ve had to make. But I’ll stop there.

Now, I have to disclose that I also have a personal interest in all of this. I have a 6 year old. Ian just finished 1st grade, which means that he has 11 more years of school. I am extremely grateful that he attends a public school in a local district that still has art, music, and gym teachers. I wish the same for all children in this state. The choices we make in this election will affect children, like my 6yr old, for many years.

Mr. Hanger, I hope that if elected, you will keep your word and support public education. Our children deserve it!

Sources:

Philly’s closing schools (6/27/2013)

Reading Superintendent’s PPT posted on district website (6/25/2013)

Pittsburgh schools (6/25): here and here

Mifflin schools (6/25)

Lancaster (6/25)

Remarks by Cheryl Wanko, WCU Department of English

I speak here as a representative of APSCUF (Association of the Pennsylvania State College and University Faculty), the faculty union of Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education. We’re encouraged that John Hanger is making the issue of public higher education central to his campaign, and we thank him for stopping at the West Chester University campus to speak about it.

You probably have heard about the recent revelations of a secret poll telling Governor Corbett that the best way to retain the governor’s seat would be to achieve a “win” in education by blaming and weakening the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers during their budget negotiations.

Needless to say, this cynical attack both on teachers and on the unions that support them does not bode well for the future of public higher education in Pennsylvania. But this is no surprise to APSCUF members, because we have operated under Governor Corbett’s misguided policies for several years now. In 2011-12, the Governor slashed funding to public higher ed by 18% — and we remember that Governor Corbett originally proposed a 54% cut — followed by an additional proposed 20% cut last year by the Corbett administration, which was just barely averted.

We believe this is imprudent, and not only because we seem to have a conflict of interest in that we work here and are thus affected by cuts. No: we work here, and so we understand the good work that gets done here; also, many of us work here precisely because we are committed to public higher education. State money can have no greater impact than by being reinvested into public education. And public higher education assures Pennsylvanians access to the post-secondary degrees in all fields necessary to thrive in the 21st century.

At West Chester, as at other PASSHE schools, we use our state money well and thriftily. We can offer a student a year of college education for around a quarter of the cost of the average private institution (see National Center for Education statistics). And WCU students — and the state — get so much for these education dollars. A WCU student gets access to great teachers and scholars. We involve students in research and in their communities through internships and volunteering. We have many accredited programs that guarantee students are receiving a top-quality education. We deliver this education using a faculty committed to their students’ success, with many small classes and lots of faculty contact. A student does not feel lost in the crowd at WCU. And the benefits go beyond our campuses: both faculty and students alike deliver crucial economic support to our local communities.

APSCUF has been trying to let people know how much we contribute to our campuses, our fields of research, our local communities, and most importantly, our students, who will need to make informed choices for Pennsylvania in the coming years. Public support for public higher ed is crucial to keeping the dream of a prosperous and intellectually vibrant future alive for Pennsylvanians. We need candidates that will support public ed at all levels and who understand the important role of teachers and faculty. That’s why we’re happy to have candidate Hanger here to talk to us about his vision for PA’s education future.

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About politicswestchesterview

Nathaniel regards himself as a progressive Democrat who sees a serious need to involve more Americans in the political process if we are to rise to Ben Franklin's challenge "A republic, madam, if you can keep it," after a passerby asked him what form of government the founders had chosen. This blog gives my views and background information on the local, state, and national political scenes. My career in higher education was mainly in the areas of international studies, foreign languages, and student advising, most recently at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, from which I retired in 2006. I have lived in West Chester since 1986.
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One Response to John Hanger: “Save Our Schools” (West Chester, June 26)

  1. Pingback: John Hanger: “Save Our Schools” (West Chester, June 26) | chescoforhanger

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