March 2, 2011
Dear House Democratic Colleagues:
When our caucus met to discuss strategy on February 16, there was a brief discussion of education issues. We want to remind you to remember and take credit for this caucus’s efforts and accomplishments over the last eight years in the area of public education. Working with the Rendell Administration we brought real reform to education funding, accountability, access to quality early childhood education and improved academic results. Additionally, we provided significant school property tax reduction. Some highlights:
· Pennsylvania is the only state in the nation with improved academic scores in all grades. The Center for Education Policy noted that Pennsylvania is the only state in the nation to demonstrate academic gains across the board from 2002 to 2008. Overall, 82% of Pennsylvania schools are meeting all of their Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) targets. The percentage of students scoring on grade level on the PSSA increased from 55% in 2002 to 75% in 2010 and the percentage of students scoring below basic on the PSSA has decreased by 50%.
· The improved academic performance of our students corresponded to an increase in state education funding. Pennsylvania increased our investments in schools by $4.3 billion since 2002. During the difficult fiscal environment of the past few years, Pennsylvania has been one of only a few states to significantly increase state funding for public education.
· Pennsylvania’s new basic education funding formula provides for more equity in funding while tying funding (for the first time) to the actual cost of education. The funding formula is based on how much it costs to provide an education for all our students to meet strong academic standards. It establishes funding adequacy targets for each school district. The new formula is validated by results: the closer a school district is to its adequacy target, the more students perform at or above grade level.
· The state established greater academic accountability for all students through the new Keystone Exams and by adopting nationally recognized Common Core Standards in English and Mathematics.
· Pennsylvania went from a state with no state funding for early childhood education to a national leader providing over $323 million in 2010-2011 for pre-K education, full day kindergarten and reduced class size in grades K-3. The state’s investments in the Accountability Block Grant program, Pre-K Counts, and Head Start provide over 105,000 children with these crucial early childhood education opportunities that are proven to improve student academic performance and success.
· Pennsylvania supported expansion of real public school choice through legislative and financial support of charter schools and cyber charter schools. Currently there are 135 charter schools and 11 cyber charter schools operating in Pennsylvania enrolling nearly 80,000 students.
· Pennsylvania promoted greater opportunity for students in higher education by significantly increasing funding for the PHEAA grant program by over $55.7 million since 2002, providing student financial aid to over 183,000 Pennsylvanian students. Furthermore, the commonwealth established strong articulation agreements between higher education institutions, providing for the transfer of basic course credits from one institution to another, and funded dual enrollment to decrease the cost of higher education while increasing access to higher education for Pennsylvania families.
· Pennsylvania homeowners received nearly $770 million in property tax relief in 2009 reducing property tax bills by about 10%, averaging nearly $200 per homeowner and benefiting approximately 2.7 million households across the state. Approximately 123,500 Pennsylvania senior citizens paid no school property taxes in 2009, thanks to the combination of general property tax relief and the Property Tax/Rent Rebate program.
· Through increased state investment and property tax reduction, the state increased its share of education funding reversing previous years of the state not funding its fair share of pre-K to 12 education costs.
This record of accomplishment is something that we as Democrats and as Pennsylvanians can be very proud of. As we work during the current session on any education issues, we need to defend and remind the public of these education accomplishments. Further, we need to challenge our colleagues to work with us to maintain and expand upon these accomplishments even during these difficult economic times.
We believe that Pennsylvania’s future is dependent on a well educated citizenry. That starts with a great public school system based on adequate and equitable funding, real accountability for all students and equal access to quality public education from pre-school to higher education. We made great strides toward these goals over the last eight years. We look forward to working with you in the future to provide a great education for all our children.
James R. Roebuck Frank Dermody
Democratic Chairman Democratic Leader