Democrats pledge to keep working for better funding of schools

HARRISBURG, May 1 – Responding to concerns raised in a letter by Education Secretary Pedro A. Rivera, House Democrats pledged to keep working during upcoming budget talks to ensure schools in Pennsylvania have the tools needed to keep students healthy and safe and allow them to benefit from a quality education that supports their lifelong success.

"We all remember the massive cut to state education funding that Republicans forced through earlier this decade," Democratic Leader Frank Dermody said. "Teachers and their students are still struggling to recover from those cuts, yet the budget passed by last month by House Republicans would repeat many of the same mistakes.”

While the Republicans respected the governor's funding requests for basic and special education in their budget, they sharply reduced what Wolf sought for pre-kindergarten education and deleted money altogether for the Safe Schools Initiative and a new program to reduce sexual harassment and violence in schools and universities.

"Kids will only be ready to learn if they are free from harassment and discrimination and having to worry about their own safety,” Dermody said. “And giving children a solid head start before they enter elementary school is something we need to be doing more, not less.”

Democratic Whip Mike Hanna said this is where the House Republican budget passed in April falls well short. It completely undercuts efforts to ensure students are safe and healthy at school, and that teachers have the professional development they need.

"The Republican budget bill eliminates support for safe schools and teacher development and jeopardizes a school breakfast initiative in the governor's proposed budget," Hanna said. "Students who come to school hungry struggle to learn. You can't focus in class while your stomach is growling.

"The House Republican budget bill drastically underfunds this and other important initiatives,” Hanna said. “It is counterproductive to our goals of fully restoring the education funding that was cut by the previous administration. We can do better. We must do better for our most valuable asset -- our children.”

The Safe Schools Initiative, which the Republican budget bill zeroes out, not only allows Pennsylvania to meet state and federal requirements related to student safety, it also helps schools provide education in an environment where every student feels safe and can learn without having to worry about violence, harassment or discrimination.

“Like many people, I recognize that this is a lean budget year thanks to Republican leadership for the past six years. However, when it comes to our children, their future and the future of Pennsylvania, education is one area where we should not be cutting back,” said Rep. Joe Markosek, Democratic chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

“This Republican budget proposal places many of our children in jeopardy. This is the opposite of supporting ‘a thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of the commonwealth.’ The Republican budget does not come close to serving the needs of the commonwealth,” Markosek said.

Rep. James Roebuck, Democratic chairman of the House Education Committee, said, "Pennsylvania's K-12 and college and university students deserve safe environments for learning, but the House Republican budget would cut the Safe Schools Initiative and the higher-education 'It’s On Us' grants. If they're serious about educating all children and reducing harassment, violence and sexual assault, they should restore that funding."

Dermody said professional development of the people who teach our children is another area in need of investment.

"In this rapidly changing world full of new technology, we need to help teachers to stay up to date. Our schools can't improve -- and student achievement won't either -- if we don't invest in helping our teachers advance their knowledge and skills as their careers progress."

Dermody said the Republican budget passed in April also underfunds career and technical education programs at a time when employers across the state are seeking highly skilled workers for careers that will provide financial security for families.

“Fortunately the budget process still has a long way to go,” Dermody said. “We’re going to continue the conversation in order to reach a comprehensive bipartisan solution for education that works for people in every town in Pennsylvania, not just the wealthiest communities.”