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How We Can Solve the Statewide School Funding Crisis
As you probably know, the Philadelphia School District is facing a budget deficit of more than $300 million. This has caused the School Reform Commission to adopt a catastrophic budget plan that eliminates many critical programs like art, music, and academic support. The fiscal crisis has also caused the School District to send layoff notices to more than 3,900 teachers, counselors, and other hardworking educators. This is unacceptable.
School Reform Commission Adopts Doomsday Budget
School District's operating budget may be revised depending on additional funding
PHILADELPHIA—The School Reform Commission (SRC) adopted Thursday the School District of Philadelphia Operating Budget for Fiscal Year (FY) 2014 as District officials continue to advocate for more funding.
The $2.39 billion spending plan meets the city-mandated deadline for adopting a budget. If the District does not adopt a budget by May 31, as required by the City of Philadelphia Home Rule Charter, it will not fulfill its legal obligations under the charter. Failing to adopt a budget might also have an adverse financial impact on the District.
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But the problem goes far beyond Philadelphia. It’s a statewide crisis that is playing out across the Commonwealth. There are literally dozens of distressed school districts that are cutting programs and laying off staff. Here are just a few examples: Allentown just sent pink slips to more than 120 educators, York is asking teachers to take a 40 percent pay cut, and Steelton-Highspire School District may eliminate preschool and switch to half-day kindergarten. None of this is good for our children.
Make no mistake: the statewide crisis in school funding can be traced directly to Harrisburg. Over the last two years, the Governor has cut funding for education by more than $1 billion. That’s why so many schools are dealing with these problems, including Philadelphia. That is also why it will take a statewide solution to address the problem.
I’m fighting in Harrisburg to make sure our students have the resources they need to academically succeed. Ultimately, we need to go beyond the current crisis and put together a funding formula for a public education that adequately supports all schools. However, there is still a need to identify additional dollars in the short term. Below are three major policy decisions that could provide the necessary revenue to fully fund programs critical to our schools, communities, and families.
As the table above shows, Pennsylvania is now spending $252 million less
on public education than in the fiscal year of 2008-09.
The following options are available:
Medicaid Expansion -- $165 million. Pennsylvania has the option of expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. The expansion would not only provide health insurance to more than 500,000 Pennsylvanians, but also annually provide a federal infusion of $4 billion in new funds. This would generate significant budget savings, estimated at $165 million in the first fiscal year. Medicaid expansion is one of the rare opportunities where we can do good for ourselves by doing good for others—expand health insurance and also finding savings for the state budget. That’s why I have authored Senate Bill 12, which would require Pennsylvania to participate in Medicaid expansion. I intend to keep fighting to get a vote in the coming weeks.
Slow Down Corporate Tax Cuts -- $362 million. PA has been gradually phasing out this business tax on buildings, property, and other capital assets since 1998. This phase out was delayed previously when revenue was lagging and our current fiscal situation again makes it necessary. Even with this delay, resuming the phase out schedule next year would eliminate the tax entirely by 2015. It’s time to take a pause on providing wealthy corporations a tax give-away, and give those dollars to students.
Modernize PA Not Privatize PA’s Wine & Spirits System -- $100 million. The Governor is pursuing an ideologically driven privatization of the state wine & spirits system, but this would jeopardize a revenue source that generates more than $530 million annually for the state budget. Instead, additional enhancements to allow flexibility and efficiencies in pricing, personnel, and procurement and enhance customer convenience could increase annual profits by more than $100 million.
Total money available for public education: $627 million
Contact the Governor and tell him that you support increased funding for education across the Commonwealth. Visit his website at: http://www.governor.state.pa.us
Learn more about the issues and provide your feedback on my website at senatorhughes.com as well as on Facebook and Twitter (@SenatorHughes).
Offices of State
Senator Vincent Hughes