Op-Ed: Why Justin Simmons Cannot fix our Schools or Relieve our Property Taxes
An Op-Ed from Kevin Deely, Democratic candidate for the 131st legislative district.
It has become quite clear that Rep. Simmons would like the voters to forget about his vote in Harrisburg that gutted our public education system. Simmons’ recent commercials and pieces of mail would like us to believe school funding is higher now than any other time in Pennsylvania history. He even uses such an outlandish claim as a pillar of his campaign platform. However, parents, administrators, and students know this claim simply is not true. To the contrary, Simmons voted for legislation that cut funding to our public schools by nearly $1 billion and taxpayers certainly know that our legislature has made no real progress in achieving property tax relief.
Why has Justin Simmons not kept his promises? For the same reason he has not been able to summon a response to criticism about the role of special interest money in his campaign. While Rep. Simmons claims to be an advocate for students, he has received thousands of dollars from special interest groups like Students First that push for the expansion of charter, parochial, and private schools, where teachers are exempt from evaluations, which Simmons claims to be vital for teacher accountability. Rep. Simmons is also endorsed and receives funding from Fighting Chance PA and Citizens Alliance of PA (CAP PAC). CAP PAChas gone as far as to commend Simmons for being a “vocal proponent of school choice and ensuring that no child be sentenced to a failing school simply because of their ZIP Code.” These efforts to abandon our public schools are not the answer. Our legislators should be working to ensure every child has the opportunity to succeed in their local schools.
The Auditor General’s special report on school funding states that Pennsylvanians pay the most towards privately owned and operated cyber and charter schools. The current system expects taxpayers to pay more than the actual cost to educate students at charters and cybers. We spend $3,000 more to send students to brick-and-mortar charter schools and $3,500 more to send students to cyber schools. Fixing this funding formula would save taxpayers an estimated $365 million annuallyand should be made a top priority. Why has Rep. Simmons not been able to fix this problem? Because he is being paid not to by private industry that profits directly from taxpayer dollars.
Rep. Simmons’ campaign is crutched on my experience as a union president and recently said that I have “focused almost entirely on issues espoused by that union – issues that will cost Pennsylvania taxpayers even more.” My response to that is simple: Before we throw more taxpayer money towards a system that will continue to fail and places unnecessary financial burden on taxpayers, let’s work on a real solution. This is not a union issue; this is an issue that affects every single person living in our local community. I speak with families every day, who have expressed concern about the wasteful spending of their hard-earned income.
Simmons claims he has been focused on the priorities and that he has brought fiscal conservatism to Harrisburg. If this were true, why do our property taxes continue to skyrocket while our school funding continues to plummet? We need real property tax reform and Rep. Simmons cannot adequately fix this problem while he is receiving campaign contributions from donors that profit from excessive funding towards private charter and cyber schools. Taxpayers cannot afford to foot the bill any longer and giving up on providing all children with a quality public school education is not an option.
As your representative, I will diligently pursue fixing this ongoing and costly funding calamity. I will consider all of the Auditor General’s recommendations to reform the way we fund our charter and public schools and work tirelessly to make sure these institutions are held accountable for every penny of taxpayer money. I will also work for real solutions to our out of control property taxes and as the Sierra Club, Clean Water Action, and Conservation Voters PA would attest, I am the best candidate to protect our environment. I’m not willing to wait two more years to see results and neither should you.