Surviving Pennsylvania's school aid cuts

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 the talk of retirement reform for
public-sector workers? How about collective bargaining, either through
state-level reforms or greater pressure applied by school boards in negotiating
the contracts governing workers in their districts?

The short-term pain is very real across Pennsylvania, and everyone with a stake in
public education in the state shares responsibility for getting kids through
that unscathed. Pretending that the pain is only short-term—and avoiding
lasting change in how school dollars are spent—is looking like the real crisis.

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