PO EDITORIAL: Educational capability slips sharply in Pa. schools

Published by Publicopiniononline.com

9/25/11

When it became clear last year that state officials planned to cut nearly 10 percent from this year's state education subsidy, many observers predicted that the result would be fewer curricula options and more crowded classrooms.

Results of a recent survey of 294 of the state's 500 school districts now support those early predictions with the weight of fact.

Data released this week by the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators and the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials show 5,106 school employees, including 1,686 teachers, were laid off in the districts that participated in the survey. Another 3,259 positions were eliminated or left vacant, the survey found.

Seventy percent of the surveyed districts increased their average class sizes above last year's level, and 44 percent reduced elective offerings, including foreign languages, music and physical education.

Other survey findings, according to Associated Press:

-- More than one-third of districts reduced or eliminated programs that provide tutoring to struggling students.

-- Nearly one-fifth eliminated summer-school programs that help students catch up on credits they need to graduate on time.

-- Thirteen school districts reduced or eliminated full-day kindergarten, and 18 districts reduced or eliminated pre-kindergarten programs.

-- Forty-one percent of the districts delayed the purchase of new textbooks and 58 percent delayed the purchase of computers and other technology.

-- More than half of the districts reduced or eliminated student field trips.

-- Thirty-one percent established or increased fees for participation in extracurricular activities.

-- Nearly one-third reduced or eliminated extracurricular activities for students, including sports.

-- About one-quarter increased the fees they charge to community groups for the use of school facilities for sports, recreation or other purposes.

All in all, it represents a disappointing reversal of the statewide academic gains we've seen over the past decade or so, when public education in Pennsylvania was still regarded as a key component to community and economic development.

We suppose none of that's necessary now, given the panacea of natural gas drilling, right?

The lesson here, perhaps, is to remember that ideologies have consequences.

Corbett's administration is not an admirer of public education. It pushed hard for the $900 billion in public education cuts this year, and got them from a sycophantic Legislature. At the same time, Corbett was preparing to launch an all-out offensive in support of a school voucher system.

When one opposes public schools, it makes sense to deny them resources. That way, one can later to point to their resource-related difficulties as reasons why the system doesn't work.

-- By Matthew Major, opinion editor and member of Public Opinion's editorial board

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