Hiding in Governor Corbett’s proposed slight increase to the Basic Education Funding line item is the fact that schools will actually lose more money because of pension obligations. Here’s a closer look at pension payments and the way that Corbett’s allegedly “flat seven year budget” for public education actually translates into enormous cuts for schools across Pennsylvania. (Many thanks to Paul Foster for digging through 500 pages of budget numbers to help explain this to all of us.)
As we noted in “Corbett Blames … Us,” the proposed budget eliminates many line items and collapses several others into the Basic Education Funding (BEF) line item. Corbett likes to claim that he has increased BEF spending, but overall, he slashed funding for public education. And what’s more, the increase to BEF is almost entirely to cover state mandated pension payments. In Corbett’s budget projects for the next four years, the only line item that grows is “School Employees Retirement.” (See page E.15.13, or PDF page 497, of the proposed PA budget.)
Back in 2010, Pennsylvania passed reform measures to meet national standards for pension funding. As a result, all of the money that the state sends to school districts for pension funds has to be matched, dollar for dollar, by those districts. That money comes out of each school district’s own budget, further reducing what is available to spend on educating students. As Paul explains, “the increased funding and the growth in that line item actually represents an additional burden placed on school districts by the state. It’s a HUGE burden.”
As you can see from the following table, in four years we will be spending over eight times as much on pensions as we spent last year, or $2.5 billion in 2016-17. Paul has calculated that “pensions will grow from 3% of the state K-12 education budget last year to 22% in 4 years.”
School Amount Dollar Percentage Year Budgeted Growth Growth (in millions of $) 2010-11 287,562 2011-12 600,172 312,610 109% 2012-13 916,052 315,880 53% 2013-14 1,318,254 402,202 44% 2014-15 1,775,622 457,368 35% 2015-16 2,262,031 486,409 27% 2016-17 2,532,755 270,724 12% Cumulative 2,245,193 781%
The bottom line? Governor Corbett’s proposed slight increase to Basic Education Funding actually yields an overall cut to public schools, and because that slight increase is dedicated to pension obligations, the cumulative effect on Pennsylvania’s schools is tremendous. Flat state budgets wind up meaning further huge cuts to our students.