Should Schools Have Known the $$ was Temporary?

Governor Corbett and his allies have been making some pretty serious claims about the budget cuts to public education. Today we address another one.

Claim 2: “Schools should have known the federal stimulus funding was temporary.”  

For two years, Pennsylvania received federal stimulus money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, ARRA. The state used this money to plug an existing hole in the education budget: these were dollars that the state had customarily spent on education, but they were now coming from the federal government.

The federal government gave the ARRA money to states to prevent schools from having to cut programs such as full-day Kindergarten and tutoring, or resorting to massive layoffs of teachers, during the economic downturn. One way states were allowed to spend this money was through the use of a funding formula, and Pennsylvania had just launched a new one. Scheduled to be phased in over six years starting in 2008, the new formula aimed to correct historic inequities in state funding of schools – a laudable goal it had actually begun to achieve in its first couple of years.

“So the stimulus money was in effect replacing state money that the state had intended to provide,” explains Susan Gobreski, Executive Director of Education Voters PA, “but in this case, Uncle Sam was paying for it. So schools did indeed know the stimulus money would end, but they expected that the state would resume its role in supporting the improved, adopted formula.”

As the Pennsylvania School Funding Campaign noted, “When the General Assembly adopted the new school funding formula in 2008, it included a six-year plan to increase state funding $2.6 billion by 2013-14.” However, by last year there had “actually been a net decrease of $217 million … [and] state appropriations lag[ged] behind the six-year implementation schedule by $1.709 billion.” School districts across the state have been left holding the bag, with huge budget deficits they did not cause and few alternatives other than making draconian cuts to their schools and raising local property taxes.

The Pennsylvania State Education Association concluded in its analysis of the budget cuts, that “[t]his is a choice to balance the state’s budget on the backs of schoolchildren, school employees, and local property taxpayers. … [It] isn’t merely wrong, it is disastrous, and seriously undermines public education in Pennsylvania.”

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