Wednesday, October 21, 2015

As State Budget Impasse Continues, Schools Go Deeper in Debt

Andrea Sears, Public News Service

Without a budget, teachers may be asked to work without pay. Credit: Michelle Collins/ Wikimedia Commons
Without a budget, teachers may be asked to work without pay. Credit: Michelle Collins/ Wikimedia Commons
HARRISBURG, Pa. - Pennsylvania schools have received no state money since July, when the budget impasse began, but the bills keep piling up.

Schools in low-income districts are being hit hardest. Delores McCracken, vice president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, recently was in Erie County, which may be forced to send students home if funds don't come through. The district superintendent told her it's not just a question of lessons that would be missed.

"His students qualify for breakfast served at school every day," McCracken said, "and what he said to me really hit hard. He said, 'I'm not getting any money. Am I supposed to stop feeding them?' "

According to a report by the Auditor General, school districts around the state had borrowed almost $350 million by the end of September to keep their doors open.

Many school districts have delayed paying vendors, some are considering closing one day a week to save on heating and lighting costs, and, as McCracken pointed out, teachers may go without paychecks.

"Our Chester Upland staff in Delaware County agreed to work without pay in August," she said, "and other districts are also thinking about asking their employees to work for IOUs. It's crazy."

In 2003, when there was another impasse, no budget was passed until December, when schools were on the verge of closing.

The money is there, but it's not getting to the schools, and McCracken said money from Pennsylvania sources aren't the only funds being withheld.

"There are also federal funds that are not being distributed," she said, "because when the federal funds come into Pennsylvania, they're put into the general fund. Without a budget, that money is not released to the school districts."

With no budget in place, the amount of state money withheld from school districts is expected to reach about $3 billion by the end of this month.

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