Schools need our support

As in generations before, the success of today’s schoolchildren will determine much of Pennsylvania’s future. If you’re like me, you still remember an elementary or high school teacher who made an impact on your life.

In most Pennsylvania counties, school districts are some of the largest employers simply because public education is an important shared mission requiring teachers and staff. Studies regularly show that an appropriate student-teacher ratio allows kids to learn better and Keystone Central School District is no exception.

But local school districts can’t do it alone. They rely on local taxpayers individuals and businesses alike and support from the state level. That is where things changed over the past few years.

In Gov. Tom Corbett’s first year in office, support for Pennsylvania schools was cut by a billion dollars. Then he locked in the cuts in his second and third budgets. Those cuts caused property taxes to rise, not just here but across the state.

In order to do something about rising property taxes, we must act in a responsible way that doesn’t leave a gaping hole in the education budget, as the state Independent Fiscal Office analysis shows would be the case with one proposal, Rep. Jim Cox’s H.B. 76.

I joined Republicans and Democrats in the House to reject that proposal 138-59, including House Finance Committee Chairman Kerry Benninghoff, a Republican. He agreed with the IFO that the plan falls more than $1 billion short of the revenue needed to replace the property taxes it seeks to eliminate.

The House of Representatives instead passed H.B. 1189, which I supported, to give school districts the choice of a better local solution. They could reduce or eliminate property taxes in favor of a combination of taxing options earned income tax, mercantile tax and business privilege tax. Each district would get to choose its own mix of what works best for the needs of its taxpayers and students.

But still, the best thing we can do for education is to reverse the hurtful state cuts made by Corbett. Earlier this year, other House Democrats and I offered a plan that would restore Corbett’s $1 billion in cuts to public schools over a three-year period.

This would ease the burden on local property taxpayers in every county, but the Republicans voted it down. Instead they keep following the governor’s lead and pushing special tax breaks for huge out-of-state corporations. No wonder our middle class is losing ground.

We should be investing in our middle-class workers and our economy, by raising the minimum wage and ensuring that affordable health care is available to everyone who needs it. Things need to change. It’s time to get Pennsylvania moving forward.

Mike Hanna represents the 76th Legislative District in Clinton and Centre counties and serves as Democratic whip in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. Visit his web site at