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Brewster Reacts to the Administration’s Lack of Focus in Budget Hearing on Education

Corbett Education Budget would Result in Local Tax Increases, lawmaker says

McKeesport, March 4, 2013 – State Sen. Jim Brewster said he was disappointed in the presentation made by Corbett administration officials as they described their education priorities at a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing today.

“I am very concerned that a number of issues confronting our education community are being swept aside by the Corbett administration in its haste to dismantle public education,” Brewster (D-Allegheny/Westmoreland) said. ”As a strong proponent of public education and a firm believer in providing opportunities for all students, there are critical issues that lawmakers must address.”

Brewster, who represents a number of financially struggling school districts in his sprawling senate district based in the Monongahela Valley, said he was particularly concerned about charter school, cyber-charter schools and the inequitable reimbursement. He also said that the lack of funding recommended by the governor in his budget plan would result in another spate of local property tax increases.

The Corbett administration has slashed $900 million in education funds that have resulted in 80 percent of school districts increasing local taxes, according to Brewster.

“I find it particularly troublesome that there were no real solutions offered that reach into the issues impacting many of my school districts,” Brewster said. “Public schools face enough financial difficulties without the added burden of having huge amounts of funds siphoned off for charter and cyber-charter schools.

“The current funding approach is wrong. We need to find balance and a way to properly fund charter schools without bankrupting public schools.”

Brewster also said that he was very concerned that the governor was relying on the flawed liquor store sale plan to generate $200 million in discretionary education funding. He said it is unlikely that Corbett’s plan to sell wine and spirits shops and expand access to alcohol would be approved by the General Assembly. He said that the governor has failed to craft a back-up plan, leaving school districts to deal with serious funding issues.

The McKeesport lawmaker said that he also was very concerned that the committee did not focus on issues such as standardized testing and its application to teacher evaluations and school performance; addressing the needs of fiscally-strapped schools; tutoring and qualitative improvements; teacher certification and transparency in charter schools; school security; and the basic funding formula.

“We need to examine how education is being provided across a broad spectrum and not be so concerned about initiatives that help private education providers at the expense of all public schools and their students,” Brewster said. “I represent a number of schools on the financial precipice that need concrete answers, a strategic plan for the future and initiatives that address all areas of education.”

Brewster authored legislation that would create the Student Performance Measurement Advisory Commission. The commission would evaluate, make findings and provide recommendations to improve testing so it more accurately reflects the academic performance of students, teachers and schools.

A long-time and vocal critic of the current testing system and its applicability to evaluating education, Brewster said a better, more equitable approach can be developed that reflects student, school and teacher performance.

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