Steven Singer: What my PA Public School Classroom Would Look Like under Gov. Doug Mastriano
Steven Singer is a teacher and blogger in Pennsylvania, where the governor’s race carries big implications for public education. Reposted with permission.
Just one teacher. And 33 kids.
That’s what my classroom would look like if Pennsylvanians vote for Doug Mastriano as our next governor.
The Republican state representative wants to slash education budgets in half – yes, IN HALF!
And that means doubling class size – at least.
Honestly, I don’t know how we’d cram all the desks in the room. I can barely fit 15 in there now.
Where would we put the books, computers and cabinets? The students, alone, would be wall-to-wall.
Just imagine that many middle school kids stuffed into the room arguing about who’s touching who and which classmate stole their pencil or book. Not to mention the children striving to get my attention to solve disputes, get help with classwork, ask permission to use the bathroom – and a thousand other issues!
I’d try my best to meet their needs but under Mastriano we just wouldn’t have the resources we used to have.
For example, there’s no way we could afford a school nurse at each building like we have today. We’d be lucky to have one nurse for all four buildings in the district – elementary schools, middle schools and the high school. If a student feels sick, there’s not much I could do except send the child to the office to try to call home and get a parent or guardian to pick the kid up early. And if the parents can’t make it, just let the kid put his or her head down?
What if the issue’s more psychological? There might be a school counselor somewhere in the district so a student can talk out an issue he or she is having – perhaps conflict resolution with a former friend, discuss peer pressure to try drugs or maybe deal with suicidal thoughts. But there’s probably a long waiting list to see this mythical counselor. Hopefully, the problem is not too urgent.
I feel especially bad for the special education students. Aides would be almost non-existent so many kids with special needs would have to struggle through issues with which we’d normally help them. All the individual Education Plans (IEPs) would have to be rewritten to take this new normal into account.
Even lunch would be disrupted. After all, there would be fewer cafeteria workers so it would be harder just to cook a hot meal and make sure it gets onto a tray in time for students to eat it.
There’s no doubt about it.
My classroom would be very different if Mastriano wins the gubernatorial election in November.
According to an analysis by the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA), the plan would mean a 33 percent overall cut in public school revenue, or a $12.75 billion loss. It would require approximately 118,704 layoffs – 49 percent of all employees in schools around the state.
At my district of Steel Valley in Munhall on the western side of the Commonwealth, the situation probably would be much like I described.
I can’t imagine how any teacher could adequately tend to double the students, but I might not have to imagine it.
I’d probably be laid off.
More than half of Steel Valley’s staff would be out of a job – 92 of our current 172 school nurses, counselors, aides, cafeteria workers and teachers would be looking for work.
And that’s just where I’m employed.
Things would be even worse for my daughter where she attends McKeesport Area School District.
According to PSEA estimates, the nearby McKeesport district would lose 281 of 521 staff – a 54% reduction. Classes would go from an average of 17 students to an average of 46. That’s an increase of 29 students per class!
How can she learn in that kind of environment!? She isn’t in college yet. She isn’t in some University of Pittsburgh survey class that meets in an auditorium. She’s in middle school!
But it would be pretty similar at public schools, charter schools, career and technical centers and intermediate units across the state.
From one side of the Commonwealth to the other, we’d go from 239,902 staff to 121,198. Class size would go from an average of 16 students per class to 33. That’s an increase of 17 students per class or 109%.
However, the PSEA estimate is actually a best case scenario for Mastriano’s proposal.
Like so many wannabe big time policymakers, he is very light on the details of how we would educate the state’s 1.7 million students. This whole proposal was just something he blurted out during a March 2022 WRTA radio interview.
It’s his plan to completely eliminate local school property taxes. Funding would be provided directly to parents via “Education Opportunity Accounts,” and families could then decide whether they want a public, private, charter or home school option.
To go from a statewide average funding level of $19,000 a student to $9,000 a student requires a cut of $17.6 billion, or 53%.
But if the remainder isn’t being paid by property taxes, that’s a roughly $15.3 billion a year expenditure by the state that used to be paid by local property taxes. Where is he getting that money from? And if the state can afford to pay that much, why not just pay the full $19,000 per student and make none of these unnecessary cuts? Or why not just pay half and reduce property taxes by that much? Mastriano is not exactly forthcoming on any of this.
PSEA admits that to come up with its own estimates of the damage the organization filled in a few details. The union assumes the state would fully fund the $9,000-per-student voucher and leave other local non-property taxes and federal revenues untouched.
That might not happen. We could be looking at an even more draconian situation.
The biggest question the PSEA is sidestepping is the impact of allowing taxpayer dollars to fund so many different types of schooling.
Even under Mastriano’s plan, nontraditional educational providers like charter schools would suffer because like traditional public schools they would be receiving less funding from the state than they do now. And parents using their vouchers to pay for private schools for their children would still have to make up a pretty big gap between the amount of the voucher and the cost of private school tuition.
However, since traditional public schools serve the overwhelming majority of the state’s students, they would take the biggest hit financially. If more parents use their voucher to pay for private, charter or home schools, that’s less funding for our public school system. That means even greater cuts to student services and more staff layoffs.
Moreover, what if parents use the voucher for a fly-by-night educational option that doesn’t meet it’s obligations?
For example, according to reports by the Network for Public Education, about half of all charter schools close in 15 years. And 27% close in five years.
And when it comes to charter schools that took federal funding, 12% never even opened. They just gobbled up the cash with nothing to show for it.
What will happen to students whose parents lose their vouchers in schools like these? Who will pay for these kids to be educated? Or will they have to go without?
And when it comes to private schools, does Mastriano mean only secular private schools or does he include parochial schools? Will your tax dollars be used to pay for students religious education?
And what about the curriculum at these private schools or some home school programs? Many use texts published by Bob Jones University Press, Accelerated Christian Education, or A Beka.
The books are riddled with counter factual claims and political bias in every subject imaginable such as abortion, gay rights and the Endangered Species Act, which one labels a “radical social agenda.” They disparage religions other than Protestant Christianity and cultures other than those descended from White Europeans.
They teach that humans and dinosaurs lived at the same time, some dinosaurs survive into the present day (i.e. the Loch Ness monster), evolution is a myth disproved by REAL science and homosexuality is a choice.
Teaching these things in school is not just educational malpractice, it’s exactly the kind of indoctrination the right is claiming without evidence happens at public schools.
If someone wants to pay for such an education out of their own pocket, that’s one thing. But to ask taxpayers to fund such propaganda is something else entirely!
Thankfully, Pennsylvania voters don’t have to accept this. Not yet anyway.
There are still more than three months before the election. Voters can choose the Democratic gubernatorial candidate Josh Shapiro. He has promised to INCREASE education funding and not just blow up the whole system.
To see an interactive map of how Mastriano’s education cuts would affect your school district, click here.
For now this is only a bad dream. We still have time to wake up and vote accordingly.
Students should not have to submerge themselves in a sea of classmates and hope the teacher will have time to educate them.
We should cut class size, not increase it.
We should hire more teachers, not rely on a skeleton crew.
We should invest in education, not sell off our future for a fast buck today.