PHILADELPHIA — Dozens of public school board members across the Commonwealth have signed an open letter to voters and families in Pennsylvania warning of the threat they say Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano poses to the financing of public education.
The letter — which as of Friday morning had garnered 70 signatures from elected Democratic and Republican members of the public school board in 26 districts — calls Mastriano’s financial plan “dangerously out of touch with the majority of Pennsylvania families” and claims the senator from the state, if elected, has pledged to cut public funding for schools by more than 50%.
This figure comes from a March radio interview with WRTA in Blair County, where Mastriano proposed reducing per-student funding in the state from $19,000 to around $9,000 per student, telling the host that the money would also be diverted: “Instead of financing a school system, the money should go to the students.
Students and parents, Mastriano said in the interview, could then decide whether they attend a public, private, charter, or home school.
Mastriano, a vocal proponent of school choice, has since slammed critics of the suggestion, with his campaign saying “it’s not his plan.” It now pledges to “fully fund schools and teachers, protect students and hold parents accountable”.
His campaign site lays out some details about his school funding proposals — including the creation of controversial education opportunity accounts for parents and the expansion of Education Improvement Tax Credit programs ( EITC) that give tax breaks to companies that offer scholarships to private schools, but don’t. include metrics on dollar amounts per student or plans for public schools.
“Obligation to do something”: Scott Overland, vice chairman of the Phoenixville Area School Board in Chester County, said he led the open letter effort last week, reaching out to local public school board members across the country. State, by “obligation to do something”.
Overland said he received an overwhelming response, with school board members still urged to be added as signatories. The letter includes signatures from a handful of board members from the greater Philadelphia area, including Upper Darby, Pottstown, Norristown, Upper Dublin, West Chester, North Penn and Downingtown schools.
“This is something that will have such a severe impact on all of our communities across Pennsylvania that we must do all we can, as stewards of the public education system, as directors of school boards, to make sure people are aware that this is a real threat,” said Overland, whose daughter is a freshman in the district. He was elected to the Phoenixville-area board of directors on the Democratic slate. and Republican last year.
The letter endorses Democratic candidate Josh Shapiro, calling him “a candidate who believes education is at the heart of a bright future.”
“It’s not politics, it’s about real impact in our communities,” Overland said.
Concerned about cuts: Damien Christopher Warsavage, a school board member for Upper Darby School District since 2019, said he signed the letter not just as a board member, but as an alumnus of the district who saw first-hand the effects of budget cuts on public school art programs. .
Warsavage, who was elected on a nonpartisan list, said he fears cuts to public school funding will turn the “educational experience into a commodity that the private sector…should profit from.”
“That’s not why any of us are in this business,” Warsavage said. “Our children will remember that.”
Syndicate review: The letter from school board members follows further criticism from the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the Commonwealth’s largest teachers’ union, which in August called Mastriano’s plan “completely irresponsible.”
PSEA released an analysis — filling in some details based on the limited information provided by Mastriano’s campaign on its education funding plans — predicting a $12.75 billion funding cut that would result in the loss of dozens thousands of jobs across the state.
The analysis also noted that Mastriano has repeatedly called for eliminating schools’ ability to levy property taxes, which generates a crucial amount of money for many public school districts.
Mastriano’s campaign later released a one-minute video calling the union’s analysis a “coordinated attack” and misleading.
Campaign plan: Other goals listed in his campaign plan for Pennsylvania include “an immediate ban” on so-called critical race theory and gender studies in schools, and a “thorough review” of diversity plans, d Equity and Inclusion Districts.
Mastriano’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment on Friday, but the candidate briefly explained his stance on school funding during a campaign stop at Gatsby’s Bar & Grill in Delaware County last month, pointing out that he had voted for the state budget in July, which saw a historic increase in funding for schools.
“The fact is, you know, we just passed Senate and House legislation, and I voted ‘yes’ on increasing education funding by $850 million,” Mastriano said. to the crowd in Aston.
“Are you kidding me? And I’m going to cut education? I mean, facts are stubborn things. So really, shut up.
– William Bender, Inquirer team writer, contributed to this article.