A Shameful Betrayal

Here is another claim we have been hearing from the Governor’s office when calling with our concerns about the effect of these budget cuts on our schools. (See The Facts on all of the claims we have investigated to date.)

Claim 3: “The state is simply reverting to 2009 funding levels.”

To understand why this claim is not as straightforward as it first appears, we need a little history lesson (something we here at Yinzercation specialize in, so stick with us):

The state uses a formula to distribute money to school districts. However, between 1991 and 2008, this formula did not distribute money adequately or equitably. As the Pennsylvania School Funding Campaign explains, “Hundreds of school districts lacked sufficient funding to provide all students with a quality education, and the state’s public school funding system did not distribute money to schools on an efficient or predictable basis. Members of the General Assembly who voted on budgets during that time had no objective way of knowing which districts had adequate resources and which ones did not.”

To fix this problem, in 2006 the General Assembly called for a statewide study. Called the “Costing-Out Study,” it concluded that Pennsylvania was short-changing K-12 schools to the tune of $4 billion. (APA Report to the State Board of Education, December 2007). The legislature wisely responded by passing Act 61 of 2008, establishing a six-year plan to phase in increased state funding for public education. In 2009 and 2010, the state used the new formula – and also used federal stimulus money to pay for the increased funding (which, remember, it had already committed itself to). Then came the unprecedented cuts to public education in 2011.

As Susan Gobreski, Executive Director of Education Voters PA explains, the $1 billion state budget cuts “disproportionately applied to the poorest school districts … in part because one of the mechanisms to apply cuts was to roll back to previous years, which means all of the fixes to the formula (things that addressed equity) that had been implemented were ‘rolled back,’ too.”

In other words, this was not a simple scaling back of the budget, but a wholesale betrayal of Pennsylvania’s own commitment to a rational and fair education budget. To claim that the state is merely reverting to previous funding levels obscures the fact that this budget re-installs historic inequities and restores a deeply flawed system. That’s not fiscal conservatism, that’s shameful.

A Snapshot of Disparity

The state budget cuts have affected nearly every district in the state, but poor districts have been hit the hardest. That means that the most disadvantaged students are hurt the most.

While the poorest students are unfairly bearing the brunt of this attack on public education, the effects are being felt throughout Southwestern PA and impact us all. The Superintendent of the Fox Chapel School District warned, “Although we may not hear the thunder, it is lightning all around us.” (May 2011 Message from the Superintendent.)

Here is a snap shot of how the state budget cuts are affecting local school districts on a per-student basis. (All data from district web sites and budget reports, compiled by Lara Cosentino and Jessie Ramey.)

Do you have data for your school district? Share it with us!