HARRISBURG, Pa. – The state’s largest union for teachers says passing the school-funding formula is a step in the right direction, but schools still need more money from the state.

The new funding formula means districts with higher needs will get a bigger share of the education money.

But Jerry Oleksiak, president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, says without an increase in funding, that only means poor districts are getting a bigger slice of a pie that is still much too small.

“Pennsylvania right now ranks 46th in the nation as far as its level of state support for K-to-12 education,” he says. “And when you look at equity, districts that really need it we rank 50th, dead last.”

The state budget is due at the end of this month. Governor Tom Wolf, who wants to increase school spending, and Republican lawmakers who are opposed to tax increases, still are far from agreement.

According to Oleksiak, a new survey of school administrators and business officers paints a dire picture for the coming school year. It found that 85 percent of all school districts plan to ask for property tax increases, half will cut programs and 46 percent plan to reduce staff.

“This is the worst outlook for public schools of any of their previous surveys,” he says. “So, there can be a lot of talk about not raising revenue but something has to be done, and we can’t cut our way out of this anymore.”

This is the seventh consecutive year the survey has shown most school districts making cuts and raising property taxes.

As the budget deadline approaches, Oleksiak hopes the governor and the Legislature hear one message loud and clear.

“Public education should not be a partisan issue,” he says. “We need to view education as an investment in, not just our kids, but in the future of the Commonwealth.”

Andrea Sears