Garret responded to a Education Voters of PA Action candidate questionnaire. The questions involved stances on public school funding, charter schools, school safety, and more. Candidates were asked to state if they Support, Oppose, or have No Opinion on each question, then provide an optional response if desired.
The questions and my responses are given below:
Adequate and Equitable Funding for Public Education
Pennsylvania ranks 44th in the nation in state share of funding for K-12 schools. Pennsylvania also has the most inequitable school funding system in the nation. Although state appropriations provide more funding to schools with students in poverty, because of our state’s heavy reliance on property taxes to fund education, schools that educate the poorest students—many of whom are students of color—have one-third fewer dollars than the most affluent districts when state and local tax dollars are combined.
1. What is your position on increasing the state share of funding for public education?
We must break the reliance on property taxes that lead to inequities and put undue burden on folks with fixed income. I support a greater state share of funding, based on a progressive income, wealth, and/or land value tax structure.
2. What is your position on providing supplemental funding to the most underfunded school districts in the Commonwealth?
Some school districts will require higher temporary funding to make the necessary repairs, renovations, expansions, to provide students with an equitable educational experience. I fully support adjusting the funding formula to provide supplemental funding to school districts that have been underfunded for years and even decades.
3. What is your position on reallocating the $240 million Race Horse Development Fund subsidy to help pay for public education?
This sort of fund as public school districts struggle shows the backwards priorities of many legislators in Harrisburg today, and why we need new leaders to be elected.
Charter School Reform
Charter schools are privately operated public schools. Pennsylvanians spend more than $2 billion on charter school tuition payments annually. Pennsylvania’s charter school law has not been updated since it was written more than 20 years ago.
1. What is your position on capping regular education tuition rates for cyber charter schools at a rate of $9,500 per student or less to reflect lower costs for cyber schools than brick and mortar schools?
Charter cyber schools have lower costs online and so pocket the difference as profits. Tax dollars should go to education and students, not private profits. I would much prefer state assistance for public school districts to develop cyber school capabilities rather than giving tax dollars to private charters at all.
2. In 2014 the General Assembly passed a special education funding formula but exempted charter schools. What is your position on having charter schools use the same special education funding formula as school districts?
This exemption allows charters to use the old flawed funding model without accountability. Charter schools must have expanded oversight and accountability for special education dollars, to ensure it actually is used for special education purposes.
3. What is your position on limiting the ability of the Harrisburg-based Charter Appeals Board to overrule local school board decisions?
Local school boards are local democracy in action, and should not be overruled by an unaccountable Harrisburg charter board.
School voucher and tax credit programs use public money to pay tuition for students to attend private/religious schools. Pennsylvania’s Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC) programs divert $190 million in taxpayer money from the PA Treasury into private schools annually with little fiscal or academic accountability. In Pennsylvania, private/religious schools that receive taxpayer money through EITC/OSTC are legally allowed to discriminate against students, for reasons that include religion, disability, and LGBTA status.
1. What is your position on increasing funding for the Educational Improvement Tax Credit and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit school voucher programs?
Tax dollars should be going to local, democratically-run school districts. Only democratically-run public school districts have the appropriate structure for oversight and community participation. If extra state funding is available, it should go to public school districts. I do not support tax dollars going to unaccountable private entities.
2. What is your position on implementing an education savings account or other new school voucher program in Pennsylvania?
I am opposed to any program that will divert or reduce funding for public schools.
Safe and Healthy School Communities
The state legislature makes important decisions about allocating resources in the name of school safety and security.
1. What is your position on allowing school teachers and other school staff members who are not security personnel to carry concealed firearms in schools?
Guns and armed guards/police have no place in schools. Teachers are not trained to handle guns and security, nor should they be expected to be. Armed guards increase student concern and tension/stress and are not conducive to an educational environment.
Is there anything else you would like people to know about your positions on issues related to public education? (500 words maximum).
I believe the state should encourage school districts to offer more classes in ecology, democracy, peace. Students should learn not just biology, but how complex the web of life is and how humans can live in harmony with nature. Students need to learn about democracy, perhaps via student governments and a direct say in school boards, so they are ready to get involved in local government as adults. We need to promote an outlook for peace and non-violence and restorative justice for students that misbehave, not a punitive system that pushes kids into the school-to-prison pipeline. No police in schools. Teach students how to resolve conflict in a healthy manner. Schools need to provide food and healthcare services to all students, regardless of income. Teachers deserve much higher salary and benefits for their important service to our communities and society as a whole.
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