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What does the election mean for education?

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Tuesday’s election means that education advocates in Pennsylvania who have been arguing for increased state school aid to tamp down property taxes and ensure more equitable spending among districts will have to fight hard to advance their agenda in the next few years.

To put it mildly.

Gov. Rendell told the Notebook flatly over the summer that if the Republicans take control in Harrisburg, he fears for the future of the education funding formula established in 2008 that ties state education aid to district and individual student needs.

But even if Gov.-elect Tom Corbett and the legislature were to continue what Ron Cowell observes is a long tradition of increasing education aid each year under governors of both parties, the likelihood of it happening next year is slim.

Last year was the first year in a long time that state education aid actually went down, Cowell said – but the impact was blunted by using federal stimulus dollars to fill in. Next year, no more stimulus, so just to keep state aid to districts at the current level will require a massive increase in state education aid from a governor who has promised not to raise taxes and who has expressed doubts about the relationship of higher spending to better educational outcomes.

Cowell, head the Education Policy and Leadership Center and a former Democratic legislator, said rather diplomatically that advocates "have a burden to better make the case about the link between resources and student achievement."

Corbett has said some positive things about the need for quality early childhood education, another Rendell priority, but it is unclear now how vociferously he will pursue that in a down economy.

And then there are the issues of choice and vouchers, which dominated the education agenda under the last Republican administration, that of Tom Ridge. Key legislators, including some Democrats, seem poised to move ahead quickly on that front.

Philadelphia Federation of Teachers president Jerry Jordan issued a post-election statement arguing that "education is an issue that should unite, not divide us." He asks for an open-minded look at what has happened in city schools with additional dollars — higher test scores, smaller classes, more early childhood education.

Cowell maintains that regardless of who won the governor’s race, the end of Rendell’s term means that those concerned about education funding "are losing our number one advocate."

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