Summer 2015 PMEA Advocacy and Public Policy Information

PMEA is actively involved in advocating for music and arts education at the federal and state level.  PMEA advocate through the organizational leadership as well as the Advancement of Music Education Council (AME).  The AME Council consists of members from all twelve PMEA districts, organizational leadership and members of the music products industry.  Members of the council actively engage in advocacy and policy work at the local, state and federal level.  Most of the work in public policy happens at the state level.

We are proud to announce that PMEA is the recipient of the 2015 NAfME Excellence in Advocacy Award. This award is given to one state each year that has proven leadership and work in the world of advocacy.  The actual award is a flag flown above the United States Capitol.

PMEA: Winner of the 2015 NAfME Excellence in Advocacy Award

PMEA: Winner of the 2015 NAfME Excellence in Advocacy Award


Budget Update

The Pennsylvania General Assembly and Governor Tom Wolf did not meet their constitutionally mandated deadline of June 30th to pass a budget. Governor Tom Wolf’s budget proposal has been a topic of conversation for months.  In addition to other forms of spending increases, Wolf proposed a $400 million increase to the basic education subsidy.  To pay for these increase, Wolf proposed an increase to the state wage tax, state sales tax as well as a severance tax on Marcellus shale drilling.  In addition, Wolf proposed taxing items that have not been previously subject to sales tax.  Essentially in exchange for the additional taxes, he proposed some property tax relief.  Not surprisingly, his proposal was met with opposition by the Republican controlled House and Senate.

Late in June, the Pennsylvania General Assembly sent Governor Wolf a budget passed by both the House and Senate. Among the highlights of that budget proposal relating to education:

  • Does not adopt a severance tax.
  • Relies on one-time budgetary items to secure funding:
  • $220 million from an unspecified liquor privatization proposal which has not been enacted by the General Assembly
  • $87 million in reduced state payments for school employees’ Social Security obligation and $25 million in underfunding of their retirement system, for a total of $112 million.
  • Invests fewer dollars in education that Wolf’s proposal:
  • Allocates $120 million for K-12 schools ($100 million for basic education and $20 million for special education). Subtracting the $112 million from underfunding school retirement plans, the real increase in education funding shrinks to only $8 million.
  • Reduces funding for Pre-K Counts and Head Start programs compared to the Governor’s budget by $90 million.

Wolf has vetoed this budget proposal.  A quick search of Twitter using the #pabudget hashtag will key you in to the debate from both sides.  The political negotiations between the four legislative caucuses and the Governor’s office continues.

A few proposals on the table have included a temporary budget (which would continue payments at 2014-2015 levels) and a few compromise budgets.  None of those ideas have seen the light of day. As of today, no budget has been passed.  While state employees are being paid, non-profits and school districts are not receiving payments.  That’s why it’s crucial for you to use the contact form above and email your legislators about the importance of restoring education funding.  There is still time to have an impact on the budget.

If you’re interested in more information, please take a look at the PowerPoint PDF of a presentation at the 2015 PMEA Summer Conference relating to the PMEA policy asks.

In other news, the Basic Education Funding Commission released their plan for a funding formula for PA schools.  The reports findings have received bipartisan support.  The formula is based on the principles of accountability, transparency and predictability.  After a year of work, the  commission recommended Pennsylvania adopt a new funding formula based on the number of students in a school district, with additional money depending on the number of students living in poverty, still learning English or attending charter schools. A district’s ability to pay for its schools would be accounted for through measures of median household income and tax effort.  The commission also recommends the formula take into account a school district’s sparsity and size relative to the other 500 PA districts.

Another recommendation relates to the hold harmless provision.  This provision ensures no district receives less funding that it received in the previous year.  While this has been a hot topic issue relating to funding and with some calling for a repeal, the commission does not recommend eliminating this clause just yet.  The practice of hold harmless has been in place for over 20 years and making a drastic change could result in major reductions in the amounts some school districts would receive.  However, the commission does make recommendations on ways for new funding to not be subject to hold harmless.

A fair funding formula is a key PMEA policy ask and from an early read, the commission’s finding go a long way in meeting what we’ve asked for and what so many other state education groups have asked for.  It’s no surprise though after US Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Pennsylvania does the worst job in the nation of fairly funding schools.

There is little news on restoring the Fine Arts Content Advisor at the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE).  While we have seen some behind the scenes momentum, nothing can happen with this position until a state budget is passed and PDE knows how much money is allocated in their budget.

As a reminder, here are our 2015 policy asks.  These asks heavily deal with the state budget so I again encourage you to use the form at the top of the page to contact your legislators.

Spring 2015 PMEA Legislative Recommendations
For Pennsylvania students to succeed in school and life, PMEA (Pennsylvania Music Educators Association) believes that:
Because music and the arts effectively:
  • Engage students in their creative, cultural, aesthetic, intellectual, social, physical, and emotional developments—indeed, in the development of their identities as students and citizens,
  • Develop students’ skills critical to 21st century learning for success in school and life, and
  • Develop skills integral to the economy of the state of Pennsylvania and the US,
All Pre-­Kindergarten through 12th grade students in Pennsylvania must be guaranteed
  • Music and arts education are offered as core curricula
  • Music and arts curricula are based on a balanced, comprehensive and sequential pre-K­12, standards­ based music and arts education
  • Music and arts education are taught and assessed by certified music and arts specialists
THEREFORE PMEA requests that:
Ask #1: Increase in Basic Subsidy Funding

Pennsylvania should increase the Basic Education Subsidy. State budgets in the past have cut funding to local school districts. By increasing the basic subsidy to local school districts, Pennsylvania would serve students more effectively by allowing local school districts the discretion to use the money as they see fit.

It’s important to note that Governor Wolf has proposed a budget that would increase the subsidy going to school districts. However, Wolf’s plan to raise the wage tax, sales tax and cut property taxes among other sources of revenue are very controversial and will most likely not be enacted.

However, there is momentum for education funding reform.  Few will argue that cuts to education in the past few years have hurt music and the arts. When a school district is asked to do more with less – the arts and music can be among the first targets.

Pennsylvania’s school districts continue to be highly dependent on the local wealth of their communities to support students’ academic achievement due to insufficient state funding.  Almost every state pays a larger percentage of overall public education costs than Pennsylvania does.  On average, other states contribute 45 percent of total education funding, but Pennsylvania contributes only 36 percent.  This low state share means that Pennsylvania’s local school districts must pay 55 percent of all public education costs, compared to the national average of 44 percent.  As a result, Pennsylvania’s state share of PK-12 education funding ranks 45th in the nation.  Source: US Census Bureau 2014

Any addition to the basic subsidy should be distributed to districts in a way that allows districts to make local decisions to restore lost programs and/or to expand or initiate programs that support student achievement, including art and music programs.

Ask #2: Enact a Fair Funding Formula

For far too long local school districts in some of the poorest areas of Pennsylvania have suffered by not receiving adequate funding for the students they serve. Pennsylvania should establish a fair funding formula that treats every student enrolled in a Pennsylvania public school the same. Students born into an affluent school district and students born into a poor school district should have the same right to an adequately funded education.

Between 1991 and 2008, Pennsylvania did not have a functional school finance formula that distributed state funds to school districts either adequately or equitably.  Hundreds of school districts lacked enough funding to provide all students with a quality education, and the state’s public school funding system did not distribute money to schools on an efficient or predictable basis.  Members of the General Assembly who voted on budgets during that time had no objective way of knowing which districts had adequate resources and which ones did not.

In 2006, the General Assembly authorized a Costing-Out Study to determine the resources needed to help all students achieve the state’s academic standards.  Act 114 of 2006 required the study to address two issues – adequacy and equity.  The study of adequacy was to determine what it costs for all of our students – no matter where they live – to attain state academic standards.  The study of equity was to address the growing gap between high- and low-spending districts and the implications for the quality of education received by students and for local taxpayers.  The Costing Out study was released a year later and resulted in a funding formula implemented in 2008.

The formula, which took into account the number of students and factors such as poverty levels and local tax effort, was abandoned in 2011 when Governor Corbett took office.  Education dollars are currently distributed to schools based on what each district received last year (hold-harmless), with some additional supplements based on political considerations more so than any sound and evenly applied education funding principle. Source:

Pennsylvania is one of three states that does not have a fair and equitable formula for disbursing funding to its schools.  Pennsylvania’s constitution requires the state to provide the resources for a thorough and efficient education for its children, but that is not the case for many of the state’s 500 school districts.

The General Assembly created the “Basic Education Funding Commission” in 2014. A report of their work is expected later this spring. Governor Wolf’s budget calls for the enactment of a new school funding formula by June 30, 2015, to take effect in the 2016-17 school year. The governor has committed to working with the bipartisan Basic Education Funding Commission to achieve this goal, and described four pillars that the new funding formula should achieve: adequacy, equity, predictability, and accountability.

The 15-member commission is tasked with developing and recommending to the General Assembly a new formula for distributing state funding for basic education to Pennsylvania school districts. The new formula will take into account relative wealth, local tax effort, geographic price differences, enrollment levels, local support as well as other factors.

Ask #3: Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) Arts Content Advisor / Liaison

Pennsylvania reinstate the funded PDE staff position that supervises the development of curriculum and standards in five content areas:

  • Music
  • Visual Art
  • Theatre
  • Dance
  • Media Arts

The position was removed from the PDE Curriculum staff in the 2011­-2012 state budget.

The essence of this ask is make sure that the arts have someone available to support and disseminate information from the state level to arts teachers. Other content areas have advisors who are already in place. This position has been vacant for more than two years, but is necessary to provide support and professional development and technical assistance to educators across the state and to colleagues within the PDE. This position is critical as the state moves forward with the teacher effectiveness and evaluation system. Some roles of the PDE position include:

  • Curriculum support, solicitation and review of materials and resources on the SAS portal
  • Implementation guidance and support of content­ specific curriculum as it relates to 
development of the Student Learning Objectives design to be used for teacher evaluation
  • Active representation in the State Education Agencies Directors of Arts Education 
(SEADAE) including direct access to the NCCAS arts assessment item bank.
  • Development and review of arts ­specific professional development
  • Support to arts education organizations regarding Act 48 professional development 
  • Develop, monitor, and support professional online learning communities

You can download of 2015 Legislative asks here: 2015 PMEA Legislative Recommendations with talking points  On this document, you will also find talking points to help you if you talk with policymakers.

As always, if you have any questions or would like more information, please email me at