Pennsylvania can no longer afford to disinvest in our kids’ classrooms

House Democrats continue to be encouraged by the bipartisan cooperation happening in Harrisburg as Pennsylvania gets closer to the June 30 state budget deadline.

On the heels of the new wine and liquor convenience law, the House this week passed legislation to reform pensions for future public employees.

House Democrats have rejected previous attempts by Republicans to change the pension structure for state and school employees because those measures would have dramatically threatened the retirement security of hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians. The legislation passed by the House this week (S.B. 1071) would shift financial risk away from taxpayers and reduce future pension costs by $6 billion while protecting retirement security for current employees and people who have already retired. It also would offer some traditional pension security for future workers.

Public pensions is an issue Republicans have repeatedly identified as a must-do in this year’s budget process. Now that we have bipartisan cooperation on a pension plan, House Democrats trust that negotiations will shift to the vitally important matter of school funding and closing the state's $1.5 billion-plus structural deficit.

On the matter of schools, a new report by the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators and Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials concludes that the depth of the commonwealth's school funding problems is severe and must be addressed now. Pennsylvania ranks 45th in the nation for its part in funding schools.

The report also concludes that in the 2016-17 school year alone:

  • Half of all school districts plan to reduce or eliminate academic or extracurricular programs;

  • 46 percent plan to cut staff; and

  • 34 percent plan to increase class sizes.

Pennsylvania can no longer afford to disinvest in our kids’ classrooms. The General Assembly must take its rightful share of the responsibility for funding schools and fixing the deficit for generations to come.