It’s time to do a little unpacking of Governor Corbett’s budget speech, which he delivered last week along with the news that he would be cutting almost another $100 MILLION more from our schools.
In his address, Gov. Corbett accused groups like ours — volunteer parents, students, teachers, and community members — of purposefully deceiving the public about the budget cuts. He stated, “There has been some confusion, even deception, about what we did and did not do with the Basic Education formula last year. Some keep insisting we cut Basic Ed.”
As we explained in “Dishonesty Disguised as Generosity,” Gov. Corbett is always very careful to state that he did not cut the Basic Education Funding (BEF) line item. Here’s how he said it last Tuesday: “We leave the Basic Education Funding formula at its current level. There are no cuts. In fact, you will find a slight increase. Just as we did last year.” What he actually did was cut many other line items and roll others into the BEF, so that the Basic Education Funding line went up slightly, but overall, education funding has been slashed. (And that slight increase was to cover mandated state-pension payments.) Now who’s trying to practice confusion and deception?
What’s worse, Governor Corbett then claimed, “This urban legend was spread by those who have the most to gain from additional funding at taxpayer expense.” Excuse me? Those who stand to gain the most from additional funding would be our children — you know, the students of Pennsylvania who lost $1 BILLION in funding last year. (And yes, restored funding would be at “taxpayer expense” — that’s how we pay for schools in our United States democracy. It’s one of the most important uses of our tax system.)
Sadly, this is no urban legend. In fact, some of the school districts that are being hit the hardest by these state cuts are outside the urban core. In Allegheny County, it’s places like Baldwin Whitehall, East Allegheny, Elizabeth Forward, Highlands, McKeesport, Penn Hills, Plum Borough, Shaler Area, South Allegheny, Sto-Rox, Steel Valley, West Mifflin, Wilkinsburg, and Woodland Hills school districts that all lost over $1 MILLION in combined cuts since that first devastating budget in 2010-2011.
Or Armstrong and Apollo Ridge school districts up in Armstrong County. Or Butler Area, Karns City, Moniteau, Slippery Rock, South Butler County, and Seneca Valley school districts in Butler County. Or Aliquippa, Ambridge, Big Beaver Falls, Hopewell, and New Brighton in Beaver County. Or Burgettstown, Canon-McMillan, Charleroi, McGuffey, Ringgold, Trinity, and Washington school districts in Washington County. Or Belle Vernon, Derry Area, Greensburg Salem, Hempfield, Jeannette City, Kiski Area, Mount Pleasant, New Kensington-Arnold, Norwin, Penn-Trafford, Southmoreland, Yough, and Greater Latrobe in Westmoreland County. The list goes on and on in Fayette and Greene Counties and the rest of Yinzer Nation. (See this list for your school district’s actual numbers.)
And these are only the school districts that lost over a million — plenty of school districts have lost nearly that much. So it’s a little hard to swallow when Governor Corbett says, “In fact … last year’s budget was the largest amount the state’s taxpayers have ever put into the Basic Education funding formula. The largest until this year.”
The Governor claims that the state helped to replace federal stimulus money, which schools should have known was a short-term fix. (We responded to this fallacious claim in “Should Schools Have Known the $$ was Temporary?”) It boils down to this: the previous administration under Governor Rendell did schools no favors when it committed to increasing funding for public education (a good thing) to address extremely serious equity issues (a very good thing), but without a long term budget plan. When the federal stimulus dollars became available, they were used to fill an existing state budget hole — a hole that the state had already committed itself to filling, and a commitment that Governor Corbett is now refusing to fulfill.
The governor closed his remarks on education in the budget address by declaring, “I want the various special interests out there to understand this: If we are going to debate education funding, let’s use real numbers.” Yes, let’s. But who are these “special interest” groups he seems to be so angry with? Students and their families do not have huge Political Action Committees and paid lobbyists. Is it teachers? School boards? Really?
The parents, teachers, and concerned community members I’ve met through this grassroots movement here in Southwestern PA have a special interest in students and our schools. It’s time legislators take the same special interest in adequately funding public education and our children’s future.