It’s signed, sealed, and delivered – but it’s nothing to write home about. The Pennsylvania legislature has passed a state budget for 2013-14 and Gov. Corbett signed it late last night. I have to agree with Monroeville Rep. Joe Markosek, the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, who said, “the one word description for this budget is ‘failure.’ … Failure to the people of Pennsylvania.” [Post-Gazette, 7-1-13] In terms of public education, here’s why.
The new 2013-14 budget increases the basic education funding line by 2% to $5.526 billion, but overall funding for public schools remains far below where it was a few years ago. Compared to the 2010-11 budget – the year before Gov. Corbett’s historic gutting of our schools – this budget is still short over $681 million. The governor and his allies continue to argue that these were not actually cuts and that he simply did not replace federal stimulus dollars, but this new budget does not even come up to the level of state support schools received in 2008-09, before the state accepted that stimulus help. [PA Budget and Policy Center, 2013-14 Classroom Funding Changes]
Gov. Corbett also eliminated our state’s fair funding formula, which the legislature had just started to use before he was elected to distribute education dollars more equitably and transparently. By taking Pennsylvania back to the old formula, the governor has ensured that our poorest students – who are often our students of color – continue to get the least. For example, with that small increase to basic education funding in 2013-14, wealthy districts such as Fox Chapel and Upper St. Clair will see much larger increases to their budgets (3% and 4% respectively). Yet a struggling district such as Wilkinsburg will only get a 1% increase. Duquesne, which is on the verge of complete collapse, will get only a .7% increase. Pittsburgh will also get less than a single percentage point increase, at only .8%. [Calculations based on Senate Appropriations Committee report.]
And here’s what else this education budget fails to do [data from PA Budget and Policy Center analysis]:
- Accountability Block Grants (which fund pre-K, Kindergarten, and tutoring programs) are flat funded at $100 million, far less than half what they were in 2008-09.
- Special education remains flat funded (and has been for years), continuing to cause enormous problems for school districts and students.
- Career and technical education is also flat funded.
- After slashing 19% from public colleges and universities in 2011-12, and locking in those cuts last year, the state system of higher education will once again be flat funded. Three of the four state-related institutions, including the University of Pittsburgh, will receive tiny increases, totaling .8%.
- The PHEAA program that provides financial assistance to Pennsylvania college students is also flat funded.
I am pleased that there were some small increases over last year for Pre-K Counts, Head Start, and adult literacy. But these really cannot be considered gains when overall, as this budget takes effect today, our kids are now missing a cumulative $2.3 BILLION for their schools. And this budget woefully fails to address the crisis in Philadelphia. In fact, any money that is being discussed to help students in our sister-city comes with strings attached – mostly demanding yet more concessions from teachers. [Philly.com, 7-1-13] This comes as no surprise after we learned about the corporate-style-reformers who have been urging Gov. Corbett to bash teachers for political gain. [See “GERM Infection“]
At the same time, our legislature is increasing funding for criminal prosecution and prisons. The Attorney General’s Office will get a whopping 11.7% increase and funding for state correctional institutions will go up 4%. That’s double the increase that our schools received. And the Executive Offices will also be making out in the new fiscal year, with a 10.2% increase. As we keep saying, budgets are about priorities, and the priorities of Governor Corbett and this Republican-controlled state legislature are very clear: corporations before kids. The senior VP of Penn Strategies, a Harrisburg lobby group, boasted yesterday that his firm succeeded in keeping the sales tax exemption in place for those buying private airplanes. [PennLive, 6-30-13; for more on this tax break, see “Can They Fly Our Kids to School?”]
Who’s lobbying for our children? Shouldn’t that be the job of our public servants – you know, those representatives in Harrisburg now handing our public dollars to private corporations? This budget fails our kids and fails to protect our common good.