Budget Forecast

On Wednesday, Governor Corbett gave us a sneak peak at his proposed education budget for this year, which he will formally announce in a few weeks. Speaking of the millions of Pennsylvanians worried about further cuts to their public schools, he said, “I think they’re going to be happy” with the budget. But then he immediately tempered that with: “I think you know not everybody’s going to be pleased with the budget address, but I think a number of people are and will be at least satisfied.” [Republican Herald, 1-10-13]

I don’t know about you, but I won’t count myself satisfied until we see the nearly $1BILLION he slashed from our schools in 2011 restored. As we well know, that massive reduction was carried forward in the 2012 budget, locking in the largest cuts to public education in Pennsylvania history. And our children are reeling from the effects: they have lost almost 20,000 of their teachers in the past two years; watched as art, music, and library have been eliminated; suffered from cuts to tutoring programs, special education, transportation, and even Kindergarten. All of these draconian cuts have hurt our poorest students the most – in part because Gov. Corbett reneged on our legislature’s pledge to fix the state’s terribly broken funding formula. By taking us back to the old system, Corbett has literally locked in historic inequalities that have been damaging public education in Pennsylvania for decades. [For more on this, please see the posts under “Claim 3” on “The Facts” tab.]

We are eager to hear what the governor will announce on February 5th, but it is already clear that he plans to continue blaming everyone else for the deep wounds he has inflicted on public education. On Wednesday he again claimed, “We are fixing the fiscal mess that I inherited. A 4 billion-dollar deficit, spending out of control, spending beyond our means and we had to do that.” [Republican Herald, 1-10-13] Funny how Governor Corbett wants to talk about billions of dollars and out of control spending, when he himself wants to give Royal Dutch Shell Oil Co. $1.675 BILLION of our taxpayer dollars. He proposed handing the international corporate giant $67 million a year for twenty-five years starting in 2017, ensuring that our children and grandchildren will be paying this boondoggle for years to come. [See “Can Shell Educate Our Kids?”]

State budgets are about priorities. And Governor Corbett and his allies in the legislature have made it abundantly clear where their priorities lie: for instance, this past year they refused to halt the ongoing phase-out of the capital stock and franchise tax, costing us taxpayers another $275 million over two years. The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center explains that this “is part of a decade-long pattern that will see the commonwealth spending $2.4 billion on corporate tax breaks in the new budget. That amount has tripled over the last 10 years and does not count the hundreds of millions of dollars lost annually to corporate tax loopholes.” And it’s mostly giant corporations that benefit from these tax giveaways, without any obligation to actually create jobs. [PBPC 2012-2013 Budget Analysis]

And while Gov. Corbett was proposing to cut another $100 million from education last year, he managed to find that same amount – $100 million – for a “voucher in disguise” program: his EITC tax credit program is now giving away public money to private and religious schools. He also created a new $50 million program for students living in the attendance boundaries of “low-achieving schools,” as defined by the state using high-stake-test scores. [See “2-4-6-8, Who Do We Appreciate?”] And by refusing to fix the broken charter school funding formula, the Governor and our legislators force our public schools to overpay charter school operators an estimated one million dollars every day. [See “One Million Per Day”] So when Governor Corbett told a reporter, “I think we’re starting to turn the corner … we seem to have started to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” I have to wonder: what corner? what light?

The light that we saw shining Wednesday on the Governor as he made these comments actually came from retired teachers protesting his budget cuts. He was visiting the Pine Grove Area school district for a presentation on the role Pennsylvania played during the Civil War: ironically, this was the very district where Corbett himself taught high school for one year, leading him to claim credentials as an educator (remember the “lifetime achievement award” for education he got back in May?). That district out in Schuylkill County, has lost $1.1 million in education cuts these past two years. The retired teachers there held signs saying, “Put education first, restore funding now,” and “We are one for public education.” Jane Fennelly, who taught math and physics at the high school, summed it up, saying, “Public education is needed for a strong democracy.” [Republican Herald, 1-10-13]

I applaud these retired teachers for taking a public stand for public education. The budget forecast might be chilly, but Governor Corbett is right about one thing: there is light at the end of the tunnel. And it’s coming from the grassroots as parents, teachers, students, and community members demand adequate, equitable, and sustainable public funding for our public schools.

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