Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Budget Vote Could Shape Pennsylvania Education for Years

Andrea Sears, Public News Service

Past cuts to school funding have hit poor school districts in Pennsylvania the hardest. Credit: Cole Stivers/Pixabay.
Past cuts to school funding have hit poor school districts in Pennsylvania the hardest. Credit: Cole Stivers/Pixabay.
HARRISBURG, Pa. – On Wednesday the state House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on a package of revenue sources that could help restore past cuts to education funding.

Budget cuts imposed on education in 2011 have made educational inequality worse in the state.

According to Deborah Gordon Klehr, executive director of the Education Law Center, Pennsylvania now has the widest gap between rich and poor districts of any state in the nation.

"The revenue bill is not by itself the solution to our funding crisis," she says, "but it is a necessary step toward closing the gap between the wealthiest and poorest school districts."

Even if the revenue bill passes, it still doesn't guarantee that any increase in funds will go to education – that depends on passage of a budget bill.

Klehr says Pennsylvania's most vulnerable students, including those living in poverty, in foster care and in the juvenile justice system, as well as English language learners, need the legislature to pass a budget that increases school funding.

"These are the students that have been hardest hit by funding inequality," she says. "We must ensure that new dollars are directed to these schools by restoring funds lost in the 2011 cuts and shift towards a fair funding formula."

Without new sources of revenue, the state will face a budget deficit next year of more than $2 billion, which advocates say could lead to more cuts to schools and human services.

In June, the state Assembly passed a budget that included a $100 million increase in education funding. According to Klehr, that amount is inadequate.

"We support the adoption of a budget that increases basic education funding by at least $410 million," she says, "and begin implementation of the new funding formula that was unanimously adopted by the Education Funding Commission."

As the budget impasse continues, schools are being forced to borrow money to keep their doors open, adding an additional $11 million in interest and other costs to their operating expenses for the year.

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