Op-Ed: Choices Ideological Not Budgetary

By Tom Houghton, Candidate for State Senate

Tom Houghton

In The New York Times, Nicholas Kristof writes “the United States supports schools in Afghanistan because we know that education is one of the cheapest and most effective ways to build a country. Alas, we’ve forgotten that lesson at home. All across America, school budgets are being cut, teachers laid off and education programs dismantled”.

Kristof refers to education as the “escalator to opportunity” describing a house painter’s son who graduated as a salutatorian and became a lawyer. He then declares that the “escalator is now breaking down.”

With the failure of our Republican legislature in Harrisburg to honor our state Constitution by adequately providing for education funding this year, our public schools and universities are certainly feeling the brunt. These ideologues believe our Commonwealth should not be in the business of providing for an education. Unfortunately, our property tax and tuition payers will also suffer as ‘the beast is starved’ to satisfy Tea Party supporters — who ironically enough are property tax payers themselves.

This is not simply a matter of slashing funding due to hard times. Harrisburg’s majority party left almost a billion dollars of unexpected newly incoming revenues on the table as they slashed about as many dollars in education funding — saving these new revenues for a ‘rainy day.’ They also chose to give away hundreds of millions of dollars in corporate tax breaks while also avoiding the natural gas severance tax.

Simply put, the killing of public education here in Pennsylvania is ideological and not budgetary.

Kristof further writes “The immediate losers are the students. In the long run, the loser is our country.”

Like the house painter’s son I am, the son of my late mother who spent a half century of her difficult life as a waitress, I owe my success to education. It was education that provided my “escalator” allowing me to also become an attorney and even serve a term in Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives — an honor I will never forget. Keeping this escalator operating for others is what has driven me to enter into state politics. Any legislator who doesn’t feel the same is violating the oath taken upon being sworn in – to honor and defend our state Constitution.

Tom Houghton, a former state representative, is a Democratic candidate for state senate in the 9th state senate district. He lives in London Grove.

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  1. Keith Knauss says:

    Mr. Schiela,

    Thank you for admitting that you don’t understand the Phoenixville/Avon Grove example or why there is, at best, a weak relationship between spending and academic performance.
    Until you do, you’ll cling to the mistaken notion that “a segment of our political class and taxpayers believe that we should de-fund public education.”
    Could it possibly be that a segment of our political class strongly believes in public education and also believes that Districts can be run more efficiently – you know – the same educational outcomes with less spending? Like the Phoenixville/Avon Grove example? Could it be that Corbett believes that a small cut in the educational budget might be an incentive for school boards to consider efficiency measures?

  2. Vince Schiela says:

    You continue to support my point with your comments, thank you. A segment of our political class and taxpayers believe that we should de-fund public education. That cannot be denied.

    The Phoenixville example is interesting and certainly a concern for the taxpayers in that district, who have democratic options such as speaking at board meetings and electing a board of directors should they believe their tax money is not being used wisely and wish to address the issue. I’m not aware that democratic processes and elections have been suspended in Phoenixville.The macro data certainly indicates that they might want to understand more, since most of the funding surely comes from their LOCAL taxes . Without detail on both districts, budgets, and specific issues in both Phoenixville and Avon Grove, I’m sorry I wouldn’t be able to comment, though I might point out that SAT scores are hardly viewed even by colleges as standalone indicators of success and there is significant question being raised about gaming of PSSA scores in a number of districts. The example also is not pertinent to the discussion item in this column.

    To stay on topic, the issue Mr. Houghton addressed was the blunt ax the governor attempted to take to state support for public secondary schools and the state university system and the ideology driving that. For saying this, Mr. Houghton deserves credit. He is speaking the truth. It is undeniable.

    I do not support unlimited and unsupervised taxpayer support for anything. I do not believe that more funding automatically equals more success or that lack of success can always be blamed on funding.. I do realize that tax dollars will always go for causes I do not agree with and that there will always be “waste.” If we are going to waste anywhere (and believe me, we will – one politician’s good cause is another’s wasteful spending), erring on the side of overspending on education of our state’s children and college-age students is preferable to, say, jackets for the health secretary, a consultant on the governor’s staff, tax breaks for businesses or checks written to individuals to use for tuition in parochial schools.

  3. Keith Knauss says:

    Mr. Schiela,

    Study after study has shown no strong relationship between spending and education – regardless of a district’s wealth.
    Let’s look at two less well-off Chester County districts – Phoenixville and Avon Grove. Their demographics are similar. Their SAT and PSSA scores are similar. Yet, Phoenixville spends more than $17,000 per student while Avon Grove spends less than $11,000 per student. Again, the problem is how effectively (or ineffectively) school directors spend the money they already have.
    And, please, Mr. Schiela realize that at an average spending of $13,000 per Pennsylvania student the phrase “eat cake” is inappropriate.

    • Vince Schiela says:

      The point that Mr. Houghton has made is that the decision to reduce state funding to education – Secondary and post-secondary- is ideological, not budgetary. The comments above support that point of view. There is an active ideology at work that wishes to de-fund public education. Let them eat cake.

      • Keith Knauss says:

        Mr. Schiela,

        I presented a stark example of two districts getting the same educational outcomes – with one spending over 50% more than the other. Can you or Mr. Houghton explain the reason why? Until you and Mr. Houghton can, I suspect you’ll cling to the false notion that “there is an active ideology at work that wishes to de-fund public education”.
        However, you would be correct if you stated, “there is an active ideology that wishes to elect officials to office who understand how to spend tax dollars to provide a thorough and efficient education.” Unfortunately, Mr. Houghton fails that test.

  4. VInce Schiela says:

    Thank you for being at least one sane voice. The commenters above may know the situation in a school district such as UCF but are oblivious to the needs of children in less well-off school districts and the impacts that funding cuts have on those children. Let them eat cake, right?

  5. Ray Farrell says:

    Mr. Houghton,

    Your lame and unsophisticated attack on the Republican party and Corporate American might elicit a few high-fives from Liberals and teacher union types but it seriously diminishes your credibility and demonstrates your lack of desire to find real solutions to our obvious problems.

    Ray Farrell
    Pocopson, PA

  6. Keith Knauss says:

    Mr. Houghton bemoans a small cut in education funding by the state and thinks the “escalator” is broken, education is being “dismantled” and legislators are “violating the oath”. Mr. Houghton subscribes to the myth that there is a strong relationship between spending and education. In other words, districts that spend more provide a better education and districts that spend less provide a substandard education.
    Unfortunately, there is overwhelming evidence that money is not the problem and there is, at best, a weak relationship between spending and academic performance. The problem is how effectively (or ineffectively) school directors spend the money they have. The Corbett administration is correctly providing tools for school directors to control spending and giving taxpayers more control over real estate tax increases.
    Mr. Houghton’s educational spending myth, like many others, is plausible, attractive. and has some empirical support. However, myths such as this cause us to misunderstand the real problems and continue engaging in practices that shortchange students.

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