Reduced funding, fairness, parental choice: Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidates have wildly different education plans

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Here’s a comparison of what the two candidates say they plan to do.

Keith Srakocic/AP Photo

School buses are parked at a depot Thursday, April 9, 2020, in Zelienople, Pennsylvania.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Josh Shapiro wants to continue increasing funding for public education in Pennsylvania, while his opponent, Republican Doug Mastriano, wants to cut it dramatically.

Mastriano, a state senator, would take the funds and transfer them to separate accounts that parents could use to send their children to the school of their choice, including charter and religious schools.

Shapiro, who is attorney general, says that in addition to the overall increases, he wants to make funding more equitable across districts.

Here’s a comparison of what the two candidates say they plan to do.

Pennsylvania Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Josh Shapiro criticized his opponent's stance on unions during a campaign stop on August 18, 2022.

Cory Sharber / WHY

Pennsylvania Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Josh Shapiro criticized his opponent’s stance on unions during a campaign stop on August 18, 2022.

Shapiro on school funding

Shapiro said he largely wants to maintain Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s education spending plan.

Wolf took control of the Commonwealth at a time when public funding for education was at a historic low, following cuts following the property market crash of 2008. Wolf made funding increases to schools the centerpiece of its budgets since then, increasing the overall budget by about $3.7 billion, according to the administration’s tally.

Specifically, Shapiro supported the Wolf administration in its attempt to funnel more dollars into state education through a funding formula the state legislature passed in 2016. Intended to better reflect the needs of students and to make funding fairer across the Commonwealth, the funding formula only applies to new funding, meaning that a small fraction of education funding flows through it.

The GOP-controlled legislature has opposed full use of the formula, and parents, school districts and advocacy groups are suing the state for what they say is unconstitutionally unfair funding of public schools. As attorney general, Shapiro filed an amicus brief in the lawsuit, supporting the plaintiffs’ argument that the legislature’s funding arrangement violates the constitution.

Sam Dunklau / WITF

State Sen. Doug Mastriano (R-Franklin), the Republican 2022 gubernatorial nominee, addresses a crowd gathered for a rally celebrating William Penn in the rotunda of the state Capitol in Harrisburg on July 1 2022.

Mastriano on school funding

The part of Mastriano’s education plan that received the most attention came to public notice during a radio interview the candidate did during the primary election. He said Pennsylvania should cut its per-student school funding from $19,000 to about $9,000 — an unprecedented cut — and students and parents should then decide whether they want to attend public, private schools. , charter or home.

On his campaign website, Mastriano outlines some specific education funding proposals.

He wants to “shift funding to students rather than systems” by creating “education opportunity accounts” for parents.

These accounts are controversial, but have become a popular model among advocates who want to make private or charter education more common. They’re used in a handful of states and are typically restricted-use accounts, like health savings accounts, in which the average amount of state funding per student that would otherwise have gone to a public school district is removed from the district. , and create an account for individual use.

On top of that, Mastriano wants to expand existing programs that give tax breaks to companies that fund scholarships at private schools. These programs are often portrayed as a way for poor children to get out of, as Mastriano’s website puts it, “failing” public schools. But WHYY also found that there is little oversight of these programs and that scholarships can go to affluent families with more quality school options.

Mastriano also wants to eliminate property taxes, a key source of funding for public schools.

AP Photos

Attorney General Josh Shapiro, left, and Sen. Doug Mastriano, right.

Candidates on parental input into schools

In his official campaign speeches, Mastriano delves into a stream of parental sentiment that boiled over during last year’s school board races: Frustrated by the lockdowns, some parents have begun to demand more voice in the education of their children in public schools.

These concerns have also spilled over into unrelated political arenas, such as worries about what books their children are reading and what they are learning about race.

In apparent response to this flurry of sentiment from parents, Mastriano offers a list of general changes that would significantly increase teacher scrutiny. He wants “a thorough review of the district’s ‘Diversity, Equity and Inclusion’ plans” and the implementation of a “universal parental rights law”.

He also called for an “immediate ban on studies of critical race theory and gender theory.”

Critical race theory is an academic framework primarily confined to higher education that examines the impact of structural racism on American institutions. “Gender Theory” refers to advice the Pennsylvania Department of Education has given teachers about including transgender and gender-nonconforming students and faculty, as well as potential resources and lesson plans on gender.

In his own plans, Shapiro also acknowledged the wave of parents who want more say in their children’s schools.

In an op-ed, he pledged to appoint at least two parents to the State Board of Education, which reviews and adopts educational regulations and standards, saying that currently “there are more seats reserved on the council for politicians than for parents. This must change.

Overall, Shapiro said, the past two years of COVID-19-related disruptions “remind us of the critical role parents play in our education system. It was true before the pandemic, and it’s still true today: parents deserve a say in their children’s education.

In this file photo, a student walks into a classroom at Jay Cooke Elementary in North Philadelphia.  Philadelphia is among the school districts most harmed by the way Pennsylvania funds public education, according to a new analysis in a lawsuit challenging the system.

Heather Khalifa / Philadelphia Investigator

In this file photo, a student walks into a classroom at Jay Cooke Elementary in North Philadelphia. Philadelphia is among the school districts most harmed by the way Pennsylvania funds public education, according to a new analysis in a lawsuit challenging the system.

Education groups react to candidates’ plans

The Pennsylvania State Education Association, the Commonwealth’s largest teachers’ union, said Mastriano’s plan would be devastating for teachers, students and school districts. The union endorsed Shapiro.

He made a rough analysis of Mastriano’s sketched plan and concluded that it “would amount to a cut in school funding of $12.75 billion and could likely result in the loss of more than 118,000 public school jobs in Pennsylvania,” according to spokesman David Broderic. .

Broderic compared the roughly $1 billion education funding cuts that Pennsylvania’s public schools experienced under its last GOP Governor, Tom Corbett.

The cuts came as federal stimulus funds, which the previous governor had used to fix and boost education spending, dried up. Although Corbett has always maintained that he in fact increased underlying state funding after stimulus funds ran out, the overall loss of funding contributed to his unpopularity and defeat in the general election.

“These cuts were incredibly dramatic at the time,” Broderic said. “They pale in comparison to what Doug Mastriano is offering.”

The cuts would affect districts across the state, and the criticism wasn’t just coming from the PSEA. Ed Albert, who heads the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools, told the Pennsylvania Capital-Star that the group “should be crazy to support what [Mastriano is] offer.”

The Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools, which often clashes with public school interests over education funding and regulation, did not immediately return a request for comment on the race. He didn’t do an endorsement.

The Commonwealth Partners Chamber of Entrepreneurs, one of Pennsylvania’s most vocal advocates for using public money to fund private and charter school tuition, also made no explicit endorsement. in the race. He has called Shapiro “dangerous” and funds billboards and other posts criticizing him for his ties to teachers’ unions, among others. But the group did not weigh in on Mastriano’s candidacy. He vigorously opposed Mastriano in the primary elections.


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