February 7, 2014

Corbett's election year budget gimmicks won't fix the school funding crisis

On Feb. 4, Gov. Tom Corbett presented another state budget full of election year gimmicks and false choices, putting wealthy corporations ahead of public schools, retirement security, and middle-class families.

School funding gimmicks
Gov. Corbett's plan does include some additional funding for schools - but all of the new funding comes with strings attached - strings that won't help districts to fix the problems created by the governor's nearly $1 billion in school funding cuts in 2011.

Instead of reversing funding cuts in the state's basic education subsidy, the governor's plan proposes $241 million in a new block grant program for use on a short list of state-prescribed initiatives. 

School districts will have to apply to receive block grant funding, and must meet strict criteria for how they can spend it. Instead of deciding how best to meet the needs of students, districts will be forced to spend the money on programs chosen by the Corbett administration.

Districts will not be permitted to use block grants to restore art, music, foreign language, physical education, and other programs that have been cut or eliminated over the past three years. The block grants will also limit districts' ability to rehire furloughed employees to reduce class sizes. 

No level playing field
Making matters worse, many of Pennsylvania's poorest school districts will likely face the most severe limitations on spending the new block grant funds. These districts will only be able to use the funding for grades K-3. While PSEA supports early learning, the severe restrictions leave two-thirds of students in these districts without any new programs or opportunities.

Already, the governor's school funding cuts have hit students in poorer communities the hardest. 

Since 2011, cuts in the basic education subsidy and related programs have fallen most heavily on poorer school districts. A PSEA analysis shows that funding for the poorest 50 school districts has been cut by an average of $532 per student since 2011, while cuts to the wealthiest 50 school districts amounted to an average cut of $113.

Learn more at www.psea.org/schoolcuts.

Good news for special education
PSEA commends the governor for increasing special education funding. 

The governor's proposal includes a $20 million increase in special education funding, which has been level funded for the last six years while school districts struggled with rising special education costs.

Kicking the pension can down the road
The governor's proposed spending plan counts on revenue from public employee pension changes which would artificially shrink state and school districts' pension payments. This would significantly increase the Commonwealth's long-term debt, and cost taxpayers billions. 

This is the same kind of bad policy that created Pennsylvania's pension debt in the first place. The state owes the pension funds billions because policymakers put their payments on a credit card nearly 15 years ago. The fact that the governor wants to repeat the same mistake is baffling.

It's time for real solutions
Instead of using short-term budget gimmicks that increase long-term costs to taxpayers, the governor should focus on raising fair state revenues from corporations that pay less than their fair share. 

Levying fair taxes on Marcellus shale drillers, closing the “Delaware loophole,” and delaying the phase out of the Corporate Stock and Franchise Tax could bring in hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenues.

PSEA's 182,000 members will continue to encourage lawmakers to reverse the governor's school funding cuts, bring an end to the school funding crisis, and invest in programs that work for Pennsylvania's students.

Go to www.psea.org/AllIn to take action.





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