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?

Springfield Sun - - OPINION -

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.

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