The governor is talking about education funding again, so it’s time to check back in on our state budget. Yesterday Gov. Corbett visited the Delaware County Chamber of Commerce to tout his liquor privatization plan, which he estimates will yield $1 billion that he will require school districts to spend on science and technology initiatives. [Delco Times, 3-13-13] I’m all for getting schools money after the draconian cuts they have suffered these past two years – totaling $2 billion now – but this plan has some serious holes in it.
First, you may have noticed that the dollar amounts don’t quite add up. This plan only talks about half the amount that schools are currently missing (after the nearly $1 billion cut in 2011 and the budget freeze in 2012 that locked in those cuts for a second year in a row). The governor believes that the state will collect around $1billion in revenue from the sale of licenses and auctioning off wine and spirit retails stores over the course of four years. [Post-Gazette, 1-30-13] As we pointed out before, that’s not a sustainable model. [See “Kids or Booze”.]
Even the Governor acknowledged this was “one shot” funding. But he suggested this would give school districts the chance to try out new STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) programs or buy new experimental equipment. He told school districts in Delaware County, “These are like planting seeds and getting programs going.” [Delco Times, 3-13-13] Um, does someone want to remind Gov. Corbett that our problem is not getting new programs going – it’s funding the perfectly wonderful old programs we had before they were slashed under his budget cuts. New STEM programs would be lovely, but that’s almost a cruel joke when our students have lost their actual science teachers. New science equipment? How about basic supplies? Parents at my sons’ school have donated all the pencils, erasers, folders, tissues, and other classroom supplies this year. Yes – donated. All.
Larry Feinberg of the Keystone State Education Coalition attended the press conference yesterday where Governor Corbett argued that liquor stores are not a core function of government and that 48 states do not have such systems. Feinberg notes that it was good to finally hear the governor say that education is a core function of our state government, and points out, “If education is a core function we should fund it that way. Forty-seven states have funding formulas that provide predictable and sustainable funding for their schools.” [KYSEC, 3-14-13]
Indeed, as a new report out from the Education Law Center (ELC) has found, Pennsylvania is one of only three states that does not use a modern funding formula. The study notes that, “Pennsylvania is a national outlier when it comes to following basic budgeting principles — accuracy, fairness, and transparency – that most states use when it comes to public school funding.” Our state government is not using an accurate student count when it calculates and distributes its education budget. It doesn’t recognize that it costs more to educate students with special needs, English language learners, or students living in poverty. Ironically, Pennsylvania did have a modern funding formula similar to what many other states use. But “that formula was mostly abandoned in 2011 and amended completely out of use last year by the state legislature.” [ELC, 2-28-13]
At the same time, a new report out this week from the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center finds that the keystone state is increasingly giving away its keys to corporations in the form of tax breaks. In just the past ten years, the cost of these tax breaks has “skyrocketed” – more than tripling “since 2003-04 from $850 million to just under $3.2 billion per year.” And the report notes that, “these tax cuts compete with state funding for schools, the state’s colleges and universities, early childhood education, and human services.” [PBPC, 3-12-13]
So we’re giving away over $3 billion in relatively new tax breaks, while our students are going without books and teachers, and Gov. Corbett proposes a one-time shot of booze money to pay for some science equipment? The only thing more insulting is that the governor has also proposed a whole new round of tax cuts starting in 2015 – precisely the year that Pittsburgh Public Schools anticipate going flat broke. As the PA Budget and Policy Center analysts explain: “enacting a permanent phase down of business taxes puts profitable corporations first in line when future budgets are negotiated, diverting resources that are critical to children.” [PBPC, 3-12-13]
So what are we going to do about this? My friends, we must protest. A coalition of over 50 groups called Better Choices for Pennsylvania did just that on Tuesday: they went around the capitol building and delivered a half a pie to every legislator, reminding them that all those tax cuts for large corporations have left our schools and communities with a smaller share of the state budget pie. [DailyKos, 3-13-13] Last year we held Mock Bake Sales across the state, perhaps this year is the year of the pie?
EducationVoters PA has set up an on-line form you can fill out right now that will find your legislators and send a message asking them to support fair funding and meaningful reform in the 2013-14 budget. They have also scheduled the next state-wide call-your-legislator day for Wednesday, April 10th. [Remember what happens when “Yinzer Nation is on the Phone”?] Who can help organize events this year?
We can’t let our legislators think that the Governor’s proposed booze money is the answer to the school funding crisis he created. It’s time to get back to the budget and prioritize resources for our children, fix the state funding formula, and enact real reforms that support public education.