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Report seeks to set baseline for education debate

Written by Rachel McDevitt | May 23, 2017 6:16 PM
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(Harrisburg) -- A recent report from public education advocates seeks to set the baseline for discussion on how to address challenges facing Pennsylvania schools.

The inaugural State of Education report from the Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA) used public data and surveys to identify issues. Not surprisingly, 86% of school administrators say budget pressures are one of the biggest challenges facing public schools. They also share concerns over building maintenance and teacher shortages.

PSBA Executive Director Nathan Mains says they made a point not to draw conclusions in the report.

"We wanted to try and gather up as much data as possible and put it out there, and say to folks, here's kind of the base-level of information," Mains said. "If we can at least all agree that these are the numbers, this is the starting point for us, then we can engage in some discussions around potential solutions."

Mains does hopes state lawmakers will take a serious look at the report as they craft the coming year's budget, especially the section on student achievement.

According to the report, Pennsylvania students rank highly nationally in reading and math levels. The 87 percent high school graduation rate has surpassed the national average. However, many students are entering kindergarten below the expected level of school readiness and high poverty rates in some districts have students there lagging behind.

"Our public school system is very good," Mains said, "and I think one of our arguments is: we could have maybe one of the best in the nation if we would make adequate investments in the education system instead of trying to shortchange students every year."

Mains says Pennsylvania ranks 46th in the country in terms of the state paying its fair share for education. Some school districts rely on local taxes for up to 80 percent of their budgets. Some can afford that, but others can't; and Mains says that where problems arise.

Mains says there are some proposed increases in education funding at the state level, but those need to be looked at next to rising pension costs and cuts to transportation funding.

"The reality is, that $100 million increase when applied to districts, some districts will find they actually have fewer dollars this year to spend than the year before because of all these other serious cuts," Mains said

PSBA partnered on the report with Pennsylvania Association of Intermediate Units, Pennsylvania Association of Career and Technical Administrators, Pennsylvania Principals Association, Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators, and the Pennsylvania Public Education Foundation.

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