Sunshine

Yesterday’s summer solstice gave Governor Corbett and Republican leaders the extra daytime they apparently needed to agree on a budget. Only they aren’t letting the details see the light of the sun. After the longest day of the year, Gov. Corbett announced Pennsylvania would have a $27.66 billion state budget saying, “We can put money back into some programs, we’re just not going to go into the details.” [Post-Gazette, 6-21-12] Why keep us in the dark?

The figure announced yesterday matches the one approved by the Senate, which included a $50 million cut to public education. While Governor Corbett originally proposed cutting $100 million back in February, we would obviously prefer to see the plan approved by the House a few weeks ago, which had no further cuts for K-12 schools still reeling from last year’s massive budget gutting. (See “Time’s Not Up, But Revenue Is.”)

Legislators feel they have a little more wiggle room in the budget with the state now anticipating $100 million more in June revenues than previously predicted. [Post-Gazette, 6-21-12] Yet they are poised to hand that – and far more – to Shell Oil Co. next week in a tax credit plan for a Beaver County petrochemical plant. That revenue-giveaway will cost us taxpayers $1.7 BILLION over 25 years. (See “Can Shell Educate Our Kids?”) While the final numbers may vary slightly, the big smiles on the faces of Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and Gov. Corbett as they stood for press photos yesterday suggest that it’s a done deal. [Post-Gazette, 6-20-12]

So why keep us waiting for those budget details? Governor Corbett is trying to shove through some last minute legislation, and he’s got his eye squarely on vouchers. According to a “ranking Republican senator,” the Post-Gazette reports that “a policy discussed in negotiations [is] on its way forward.” That will most likely be Governor Corbett’s attempt to create a commission to study funding for charter and cyber charter schools (as well as special education).

Right now there are also several bills in play dealing with charter “reform.” Unfortunately, as Executive Director of Education Voters PA Susan Gobreski points out, this is “charter reform (without the reform).” Last week, Rep. Christiana, from here in Southwest Pennsylvania, proposed giving away $200 million to private schools by increasing the current EITC program, while creating a new Education Improvement Scholarship Credit (EISC) program. (See “We Have $200 Million?” for details.) This is HB 2468 and is scheduled to be voted on this coming Monday, June 25, 2012.

An alternative bill (HB 2364) sounds better: it would fund charter schools based on what they actually cost. Meanwhile, another local legislator, Rep. Jake Wheatley, a Democrat from Allegheny County, wants to introduce yet a different bill that will increase EITC funding and create a new Keystone Scholarship Tax Credit (KSTC) program. Various proposals also include a statewide “authorizer” that would “take away local authority and input.” [Education Voters legislative update, 6-20-12]

Christiana and Wheatley’s proposals are actually vouchers in disguise and should never see the light of day. But on the longest day of the year, Gov. Corbett declared, “I feel very confident that we’re going to have a very productive week next week.” [Post-Gazette, 6-20-12] Real charter reform would be a ray of sunshine, fixing the way charter schools are funded, increasing accountability, and maintaining local authority.

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Ed Voters PA is hosting a “virtual phone bank” today from 6:30pm to 7:30pm. You can volunteer to make calls to voters in key legislative districts and patch them through directly to their representative’s office. You can make the calls from the comfort of your own home and all you need is a phone and a computer. To help, please contact Ian Moran <ian@educationvoterspa.org> for details.

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