This afternoon, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett is set to announce his budget for the next fiscal year, and the proposal is being described as "dramatic" and "difficult." Flat state aid for K-12 schools is the best situation expected—many observers expect further cuts on top of last year's regressive reductions in state aid.
Districts—especially poorer ones that rely heavily on state funding—are faced with a serious challenge to make ends meet.
Districts—especially poorer ones that rely heavily on state funding—are faced with a serious challenge to make ends meet. Chester Upland School District has shown what not to do: pretend extra money will appear out of thin air. After spending as if last year's state aid reductions never happened, the district is on the brink of bankruptcy. School boards, superintendents, and union leaders in other Pennsylvania districts have a responsibility to make their budgets work without dragging their schools to the brink.
Pennsylvania's lawmakers bear some responsibility—and blame—here as well, however. How they allocate the cuts needed to balance the state's budget have a real impact on kids, especially those in disadvantaged communities. The Keystone State's legislators ought to ensure that wealthier communities bear the brunt of any cuts in state aid, since they have a more robust local tax base and rely less on dollars from Harrisburg.
What's most striking about the discussion in Pennsylvania over the past couple of budget cycles is how little anyone is talking about long-term changes to how schools there operate. The pension system is underfunded, and likely to get worse in coming years—where is
Maryland is not a hot-bed of education reform (though the newly-formed MarylandCAN no doubt hopes to change that) and Martin O'Malley is not usually seen as vying for the crown of public-sector reformer as Chris Christie, Andrew Cuomo, et al. are. Nevertheless, O'Malley is stepping out in favor of a much-needed—and relatively unpopular—reform to Maryland's teacher pension system.
Under current law, the state shoulders most of the burden for teacher pensions, not districts. It's a sweet deal for the state's wealthier school districts, which can max out teacher salaries without bearing much in the way of pension costs. The state, in turn, must divert resources from other uses to pay the bill for retirement benefits.
The state will only pick up half the tab, leaving local school boards with significant skin in the game.
O'Malley's plan is modest. The state will only pick up half the tab, leaving local school boards with significant skin in the game. In return, the state will pay half of the employer contribution to Social Security, an expense that is capped by statute and, unlike pension costs, is not subject to investment losses. Nevertheless, many county officials, especially in wealthy counties, predict fiscal Armageddon will result.
The governor and his allies in the legislature on this issue need to make the case for getting this bad arrangement off the books in Maryland. (A similar law is in effect in Connecticut—Nutmeg State chief exec Dannel P. Malloy could borrow a page from O'Malley's playbook.) Given Maryland's $11 billion pension shortfall and enormous underfunded liabilities for retiree healthcare, it
Apple's announcement last week that it is entering the textbook market in a big way, with a free product allowing content creators to build engaging digital textbooks more easily, has already gotten lots of reaction—positive and negative—from around the K-12 blogosphere (including from Fordham's own Kathleen Porter-Magee). Put me in the column of believers, though I don't think the iPad's impact on the classroom will be limited to digital textbooks.
Soon after its release in 2010, accessibility advocates touted the iPad's potential to displace much more expensive assistive devices
In case you missed it, Terry Ryan wrote a great post yesterday on the potential implications of Ohio's funding crisis for education in the state:
Ohio’s newspapers ran headlines today warning, “Money crunch pushes Downtown roadwork way back,” “Local highway projects face delays,” and “Last phase of I-75/I-475 project stalls.” The financial problems facing Ohio is scaling back big time infrastructure projects that have been in planning for years. According to the Columbus Dispatch the Ohio Department of Transportation “proposes pushing back 34 projects that had been planned to start by 2017 to dates as far off as 2036.
Jerry Wray, director of the Ohio Department of Transportation, captured the problem when he told the Cincinnati Enquirer:
"Unfortunately, this is Ohio’s new reality. For too long, previous administrations have added more and more to the list of projects knowing that there were more projects than funds available. Their poor planning has put us in the position of making the tough decisions and delivering the bad news to many communities throughout the state that there is simply not enough money to fund their projects."
In reading about the woes facing Ohio’s highway improvement efforts I couldn’t help but wonder if education in Ohio doesn’t face problems of similar scale.
- Stretching the School Dollar
- Common Core Watch
- Ohio Gadfly Daily
- Board's Eye View
- Choice Words
About the Editor
Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow
Chris Tessone was a Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow and the Director of Finance of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. He has strong interests in governance and education finance, especially teacher compensation and school facilities finance.