Legislators: Don’t cut school funding on way out of town
It’s the last week of June. Do you know where your state budget is? Here’s a better question: Do you know where the $100 million in additional funding proposed by Gov. Tom Wolf is?
That money was meant to level what has been a lopsided playing field when it comes to education funding in Pennsylvania, with poor districts getting the short end of the stick.
It was meant to put some teeth into the Fair Funding Formula adopted by the Legislature last year.
In effect, it was the governor asking the Legislature to put its money where its mouth was.
The study that suggested the Fair Funding Formula concluded what many had already believed: Too many children in Pennsylvania are offered an inferior education for no other reason than their zip code.
They live in less well-to-do school districts, with battered economies and depleted tax bases that make it very difficult to raise additional revenue the way that more well-todo districts do it – by simply raising property taxes.
Now that $100 million outlay is apparently in jeopardy.
So much so that a group of educators called a press conference earlier this week to warn that the state may be in danger of failing to live up to the promises of the Fair Funding Formula. Again. The state is doing its wallowing in its usual budget drama, with no spending plan yet in place and legislators staring at a deadline of midnight Friday night to have the fiscal plan in place by July 1, as mandated by the state Constitution.
Not helping matters is the sea of red ink the state perpetually finds itself swimming in.
The Keystone State is staring at a deficit in the neighborhood of $3 billion.
With Republicans continuing to steadfastly oppose any move to increase revenue via a tax hike, the normal cast of budget Band-aids is being slapped into place.
Increase in legal gambling? Check. Borrowing money? Check. Privatizing the sale of liquor and selling pricey new licenses? Check.
Enact a severance tax on the state’s natural gas drilling business? Uh, not so fast. That would be a new tax. And that makes it out of bounds for many state Republicans.
So the question now is how much new revenue can be generated, and if it’s not enough what will be cut?
Many legislators and education advocates are worried that the ax may fall on that new $100 million dedicated to education under the Fair Funding Formula.
The bulk of the state’s basic K-12 education basic funding will continue to be dispersed as it always has. This new allocation was specifically meant to even the playing field.
Cutting it would leave kids in struggling districts once again slogging uphill in terms of the quality of education they receive.
Keep a close eye on Harrisburg this week.
Our legislators, backed up against the July 1 deadline, likely will look to take the most direct – read easiest – way to resolve this annual budget dilemma.
There already is talk of a “get-out-of-town budget.” And it’s exactly what you might think.
Gov. Wolf has done his part, abandoning the calls for increases in sales and income taxes that led to bloody budget disputes his first two years in office.
But he still has a $32.3 billion plan on the table. Republicans who control both the Senate and House are countering with a $31.5 billion blueprint.
Figuring out what gets cut is anyone’s guess.
But it shouldn’t be education funding.
Especially not that $100 million promised for the Fair Funding Formula.
Doing so will send a message to lots of children and families that they don’t count.
That they can continue to get less than what is offered kids just a few miles away.
There’s nothing “fair” about that.
Call your legislator. Let them know you demand a level playing field when it comes to education in Pennsylvania.
And that $100 million will go a long way toward delivering just that.