Doug Mastriano wants to cut funding for public education in Pennsylvania

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Doug Mastriano, the GOP candidate for governor of Pennsylvania, follows the MAGA playbook of not engaging with mainstream media by any rules other than his own. But he left enough of a mark to indicate that his plan for public education in Keystone State would be one of the most sweeping in the country.

Mastriano argued that Pennsylvania property tax should be reduced to zero. His current campaign website promises a “property tax elimination tax force.” He never suggested replacing these lost revenues with another source; in fact, his website also promises to reduce gas tax and corporate net income tax.

Pennsylvania, like most states, uses property tax money to fund public education. Mastriano argues that his cuts can be paid for by “redirecting our public funds to follow students instead of systems,” i.e. a school voucher program.

Mastriano envisions these vouchers as much cheaper than current spending. In a March interview, citing a figure of about $19,000 spent per student in Pennsylvania schools, Mastriano suggested reducing that figure to nine or ten thousand per student, or about half. Since then, Mastriano has rolled back that number; in a campaign video, he suggests the vouchers would average $15,000, to be spent on “public school, home school, private school, religious school.”

A state teachers’ union, the Pennsylvania State Education Association, released an impact study of Mastriano’s proposal. They find that his proposal would cut $12.75 million from school funding, or about a third of what is spent in the state. According to PSEA President Rich Askey, “When you cut funding to schools this much,” the first thing that’s going to happen is teachers are going to be fired, curricula are going to be lost, and class sizes are going to go down. explode. .”

There are several problems with Mastriano’s plan.

Since the state only provides about 38% of local public school funding (the national average is 47%), local property taxes make up the difference. This means that ending property taxes will cut funding for schools by far more than the 50% that Mastriano was originally talking about; the money to fund its voucher program would have to come from elsewhere at the state level.

Mastriano’s program would mean a brutal defunding of rural districts, but there are few private schools operating in these communities (and these have limited capacity). These families would see their local schools’ funding drained, and they would get nothing in return. And as always with voucher systems, private schools choose their students, not the other way around.

Such a system would also result in a loss of local control. Communities can now choose to raise their own taxes to strengthen local schools or promote capital improvements; without the ability to levy property taxes, local school boards would lose that power.

Districts facing extreme financial hardship might decide to simply close schools; just six years ago, Erie considered closing all high schools and letting families find their own solution.

Mastriano’s concerns fit the usual culture warrior checklist. He repeatedly rails against critical race theory in schools, though he does not mention any real examples of crt being taught in the state. Other campaign materials promise to ban mandatory mask-wearing, ban “biological men” from women’s sports and expand school choice.

He promises incentives and rewards for outstanding teachers and to set up a “Heroes to Teachers program,” which suggests a program like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ program to place veterans and their wives, regardless of their education or their training, in the classrooms (DeSantis attended a campaign stop for Mastriano in Pittsburgh).

It’s possible that in the coming weeks, Mastriano will offer more details on how his public education funding plan might work. But Pennsylvania is the state where Tom Corbett has become a rare one-term government largely over accusations of cutting $1 billion from education funding. Mastriano will have to demonstrate convincingly that cutting several billions will not come at a similar political cost.

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