HARRISBURG, February 27, 2012 – – At today’s Senate Appropriations Committee budget hearing, Democratic Appropriations Chair Vincent Hughes (D-Phila./Montgomery) questioned Pennsylvania Department of Education Secretary Ronald Tomalis about the potential impact of Governor Tom Corbett’s $400 million in proposed education budget cuts.

“There is no doubt that Corbett’s school funding plan will force even greater hardships on many Pennsylvania school districts, parents and students,” Hughes said.  “This plan would force more local tax increases, program cuts and spikes in class sizes.

“In addition, the governor and education department officials continue to be evasive about the total dollars that are being cut and how the budget cuts impact financially strapped districts that are now struggling to pay their bills and stave off insolvency.”

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Senator Hughes was specifically concerned by Secretary Tomalis’ admission that the department is unsure about the number of fiscally distressed schools in Pennsylvania.

“I am deeply concerned that the Department of Education does not know how many schools are near the edge of the fiscal cliff,” Hughes said.  “How can we save these schools if we cannot even identify the school districts?  The Corbett Administration needs to be aggressive and try and prevent school district insolvency.”

Secretary Tomalis stated that the department does not know how many schools are fiscally distressed because the schools don’t tell them.

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Senator Hughes also questioned the secretary about so-called ‘pay-to-play,’ where parents are now having to pay for their children to participate in school sports and other extracurricular activities.

“For parents struggling to make ends meet, paying for their children to play sports or participate in other extracurricular activities is a serious burden,” Hughes said.  “With studies showing that these activities help prevent these kids from dropping out or getting into trouble, it is important that we continue to provide them with little cost to parents.

“If we can keep students interested in sports or other extra-curricular activities we save taxpayer’s dollars in the long-run.”

Senator Hughes also questioned cuts to the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) at a time when students need assistance due to higher education funding cuts and tuition hikes.

“It makes no sense to cut PHEAA’s budget right now when higher education cuts will force tuition hikes and put a college degree out of reach for many promising students,” Hughes said.  “Students and parents are simultaneously being whipsawed by tuition increases and aid decreases.  We must explore these options, not jam our kids and their parents with disastrous cuts that result in tuition increases.”

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