Mike Crossey, President of Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA):
“A Budget that Hurts Our Families, Hurts Our Schools, Hurts Our Kids.”
Lead in music: (The Hit Crew, “(I’ve Got A) Golden Ticket“)
[Rick Smith]: Well, you know, if we could only get those wonderful vouchers. Oh, life would be so wonderful, or at least that’s what I’m told. Every time I turn around I’m being advertised at about why we need to destroy public education, why we need vouchers, why we need more charter schools, why we need cyber charters. When you look at the numbers, when you look at the facts, they’re not doing as well as the public school systems are doing! Even though their coffers seem to be full, every time I turn around I see that public school funding being cut, being cut, being cut. And today’s budget talk…again, you look at the numbers. Education Voters PA, Susan Grobeski, her tweet of the day, “loss of more than $94 million.” You look at $900 million last year, $94 million this year…almost a billion dollars in cuts. That’s why I’ve asked Mike Crossey, President of the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) to come talk to us about what he heard today, what the numbers look like, and what it means for Pennsylvania’s students.
Mike, thanks for taking time for me.
[Mike Crossey]: It’s great to be with you, Rick, as always. Thanks for having me on.
[Rick Smith]: I look at this and what is frustrating—again, we’re talking about giving huge handouts to corporations…talking about doing away with the cap and franchise tax, but educations seems…well, we can cut that.
[Mike Crossey]: It is unfortunate. It is a totally misguided budget and, you’re right, this budget doesn’t do anything at all for working class Pennsylvanians. It doesn’t do anything to promote jobs in the state. It doesn’t do anything for transportation in the state. But, yes, they decided they would cut education once again—basic education, K-12 funding, and higher education.
[Rick Smith]: You know that one of the things he [Corbett] said he wanted to do, one of his major innovations…and, again, it’s not an innovation, it’s the same failed policy that’s been going on in this country for the last 30 years…he said he wants to propose the use of block grants. And, again, the more I look at these block grants, no matter what the issue is—if it’s welfare funding, if it’s Medicaid funding—it always seems to never do what it’s supposed to do.
[Mike Crossey]: No, absolutely not. It’s a shell game. Bottom line is that you say that you’re putting more money into the program, but basically what they’ve done is that they’ve eliminated several programs, combined several line items together, which makes the one number look a little bit bigger, but in the long run what they’re doing is they’re cutting money. They’re taking money out of basic education—we’re about $94 million short this year.
[Rick Smith]: What’s that going to…Well, first I should say, what’s that going to mean to me as a parent, second as a taxpayer, and third, what’s it mean to small communities, small school districts who can’t afford to raise taxes on the local residents any more?
[Mike Crossey]: What it means as a taxpayer is that your local property taxes are probably going to go up again. Governor Corbett is more concerned about his promise not to increase state taxes, but at the same time he is forcing local districts—school districts and municipalities—to increase taxes all across the state of Pennsylvania.
What it means to you child in school is fewer programs, fewer teachers, less opportunity. There’s no doubt that this is a [budget] that hurts our families, hurts our schools, hurts our kids.
[Rick Smith]: You know, I looked at his speech today and there were a bunch of things in there that just grabbed my attention. One of the things he said is that corporation are going to come to Pennsylvania because Pennsylvania embraces free markets and he said that businesses create jobs where they feel welcome. My mind is just spinning because as a small business owner and as someone who knows other small business owners, I don’t think that has anything to do with it. I think an educated workforce has an awful lot to do with it, an infrastructure system that has been invested in…I think those are the more important things than some bizarre idea that free markets, we somehow believe in.
[Mike Crossey]: You’re 100% right. In the studies that I’ve read, one of the top one or two issues that a business looks at when it decides to move into a state or not is the quality of the education, the quality of the school districts. Governor Corbett is absolutely doing the wrong thing. He’s hurting our schools, he’s hurting our kids. And, nothing in this budget addresses how do we deal with the school districts that are on the verge of complete failure? Chester Upland, York City, and I could probably name 20 other districts in the state of Pennsylvania that because of last year’s cuts, we were really hoping that the Governor would step up to the plate and do what was right this year: fund our schools and put back the money for the neediest students, for our minority students in those schools, for the students that have English as a second language, and provide the resources that are necessary for every child to have the opportunity to be successful and he didn’t do that.
[Rick Smith]: No, he didn’t, but he did use some rhetoric, because he did say that every child can learn, Mike, and he says we need to instill that faith in every school in the state, every school in Pennsylvania should be our best. That’s nice to say, but how do you do that when you can’t pay your teachers, you can keep the lights on, you can’t pay the heating bill?
[Mike Crossey]: You know what? Rhetoric is really nice in the political world, but in the real world we need resources if we are going to educate the children that sit in front of our teachers and our support professionals in the classrooms.
[Rick Smith]: What bothers me is…I looked at this story, we talked about it last night, that the Philadelphia schools are looking at closing on the weekends—in fact they’re going to, they’re going to be closing on the weekends and they’re going to be closing at eight o’clock every night—canceling weekend programs, canceling other programs that they has as part of the community. For me, I’m looking at this and I’m going…from the right-wing agenda, this idea that we need to destroy public education and make it private, this is a step for them in the right direction. Because they’re taking the schools pretty much out of the community.
[Mike Crossey]: Right, right. And the schools should be the center of every community. I mean, we should be using our schools more, we should be rallying around them, we should be using them for social events in the community. Schools are a big, big investment in the communities and for the governor to cut their funding to the point where they can’t be used by the community anymore…it’s just an absolutely horrendous budget.
[Rick Smith]: I want to go back to block grants for a second, because one of the things that’s frustrating to me…you brought up Chester Upland, a place where the teachers actually worked for nothing for several weeks until the funding came in. And, they may have to again before the end of the year because the don’t have enough money because in their district, as I understand it—and correct me if I’m wrong, they have a for-profit charter school in that district that has to be paid first. So, the school district has money—just like the block grant money—they’ve got the money, but the first person who gets it is this for-profit charter school. And then, oh, and by the way, whatever is left, you and the public school can have. As I’ve been saying since this story broke, this is what we are going to be seeing, first in every poor school district and then into the middle-class as they continue to destroy public education.
[Mike Crossey]: You’re absolutely right. Not only do the charter schools get paid first, but the charter schools are the only schools in the state that did not receive a piece of the cut in funding that hit every other school district in the state this year. Because charter schools are paid on last year’s reimbursement levels. So, even though there was an $860 million cut across the board to schools in the state, the charter school’s funding this year is based upon last year’s revenue, do they didn’t receive a cut. They’re still demanding last year’s higher subsidy levels, instead of this year’s piece of the cut. So, not only do they get theirs first, but they get a bigger slice than every other child in the state.
[Rick Smith]: Geez, oh man. I look at this block grant thing and the reason I brought that up is because by doing this, do you think by having these block grants now it’s going to make that system that we just laid out in that one district more likely in other districts?
[Mike Crossey]: Absolutely. Absolutely. The fact that he combined all these line items together makes it look like he’s increasing funding, but what he’s really doing is cutting funding.
[Rick Smith]: Is there anything good in this in your mind?
[Mike Crossey]: No. There’s not a good thing in this budget at all. I mean, there’s no jobs program, there’s no transportation funding. In addition to the second round of cuts here for regular education, for our K-12 system, the higher ed system is cut 20 and 30 percent depending on the type of college. Higher education libraries are cut, student loan programs are cut. This is an across the board cut. Human services are cut. Mental illness programs are cut. This is a budget that hits those that can least afford it the hardest.
[Rick Smith]: What do you say to the people who say we’re just…you know, Mike, we’re broke. I’ve heard this argument a number of times, even from people who I think who are fairly intelligent—“we’re broke, we can’t afford it, we’ve got to cut back on these things, on these ‘luxuries’.”
[Mike Crossey]: You know…I’m a school teacher. I’m not an economist. But, when my wife and I sit down and we prepare our budget, we look at, you know, how do we control our expenses? And that’s reasonable. But we also look at what we need to do to bring in revenue to support our family and to do those things that help our family grow. And I think that is what the governor ought to be doing. The governor should be looking at increased revenues. Marcellus Shale. Marcellus Shale could bring in close to $500 million every year. If we would tax the Marcellus Shale, the extraction of our own natural resources…if we would tax those as the same as all the other states taxed them, we could bring in $500 million more.
Seventy-six percent of the corporations in the state of Pennsylvania pay zero corporate net income tax. The governor says, eh, corporate net income tax it too high. Actually, he’s right on that. He’s right on that because only the small mom-and-pop corporations pay it! We could lower that corporate net income tax, make everybody pay their fair share, close the Delaware loophole, and the corporate net income tax would be lower for everybody and we could have another $400 million to support our public school system and human needs, things we need here in the state of Pennsylvania…There’s plenty of revenue out there. The governor just has to decide that he’s going to go after it.
[Rick Smith]: Yep, well, you know what it is? He’s all bent on the pledge. Gotta keep the pledge! Mike, great talking with you. I appreciate it. I appreciate the information. Thanks so much, we’ll talk to you again real soon.
Mike Crossey, President of the Pennsylvania State Education Association.