Education

A Detailed Look at Pennsylvania's 2011-12 Budget

A blog post from Sharon Ward, originally published on Third and State.

Two weeks ago, the Pennsylvania General Assembly completed work on a 2011-12 state budget that achieved Governor Tom Corbett’s primary objective — to meet a target spending number of $27.3 billion or lower, regardless of the impact.

The budget spends $27.249 billion, the lowest amount since the 2008-09 enacted budget, with cuts totaling more than $960 million.

Still trying to piece it all together? Well, the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center has you covered. On Wednesday, we released a detailed analysis of the new budget. Check it out and get all the details.

Here are a few highlights:

NN Meets to Fight the Next Step in Privatizing Education: Vouchers

In the legislative term just ended, Governor Corbett and his right wing clones in the Legislature devastated public education funding. But they have new blows ready in their effort to destroy the future of Pennsylvania’s children. The next step planned is to divert some of the insufficient money that has been left for public education into private hands through vouchers. Neighborhood Networks will be meeting on Tuesday night to discuss the next intended blow and what we can do to ward it off. Susan Gobreski, Exec. Director of Education Voters PA will be with us. We hope you will be too.

The idea that problems with public education can be solved by giving poor parents a voucher to pay for their kids to go to quality private schools is a sham. The legislation that now embodies this idea is Senate Bill 1. If enacted, it would probably cost $1 billion per year, taken directly out of amounts that would otherwise be available to public schools. Yet, according to Education Voters, only 6,500 students would use the vouchers provided for in this bill, about 65% of whom already attend private schools. Low income students will not likely be among the new students getting assistance, since many of them would have to come up with additional money for tuition; the vouchers wouldn’t pay enough.

Furthermore, nothing guarantees that poor, educationally challenged, low income students would ever be admitted to the best schools whether they pay full tuition or not. These schools would retain total discretion to admit whomever they want.

Pa.'s 2011-12 Budget: Doing Less with More

The Pennsylvania Legislature has approved a 2011-12 General Fund budget that makes deep cuts to education, health care and other cost-effective local services, while cutting taxes for business and leaving most of a $650 million revenue surplus untouched.

You can view our budget highlights post here. I also issued the following statement on the budget's passage:

The Legislature has adopted a budget that does less with more, cutting services to children while leaving most of a $650 million revenue surplus on the table.

The budget reflects a set of priorities that few Pennsylvanians share. It reduces the number of teachers in the classroom, raises college tuition, and increases local property taxes in order to meet an artificial spending number.

This budget provides tax breaks to businesses but cuts funding to homeless shelters and Meals on Wheels. It gives natural gas drillers a free pass, once again.

Pennsylvania’s economy grew more quickly than the nation in 2010, but that growth has begun to stall. Cutting jobs and services will have a ripple effect through our communities that will make a robust recovery even harder to achieve.

This budget fails to put people first. It continues a pattern in Harrisburg of balancing the budget on the backs of the most vulnerable and shifting more state costs onto local taxpayers. That’s bad news for middle-class families, taxpayers and the economy.

An Overview of Pennsylvania’s 2011-12 State Budget

State legislative leaders and Governor Tom Corbett agreed on a 2011-12 state budget deal this week, and on Tuesday, the state Senate approved it on a 30-20 party-line vote. The bill heads to the House of Representatives next.

It would spend just $27.2 billion, down $962 million, or 3.4%, from the 2010-11 budget.

The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center will have a detailed analysis of the budget later in the week, but for now we will highlight funding levels for major programs. You can view budget tables detailing funding levels by major department and highlights of education funding levels.

Education

The biggest cuts, in both dollars and percentages, are in education programs, including PreK-12 and higher education. While the budget makes some funding restorations from the Governor’s original budget proposal, the cuts are still significant:

  • Basic education funding, at $5.35 billion is cut $421.5 million, or 7.3%, from the current year.
  • Funding for Accountability Block Grants, at $100 million, is cut by $159 million, or 61%.
  • Special education is flat-funded for the third year at just over $1 billion.
  • Charter School reimbursements are fully eliminated (a loss of $224 million).
  • Funding was also eliminated for Educational Assistance (a tutoring program) and school improvement grants.
  • Both Head Start and PreK Counts were cut by about 3%.

The cuts in major education programs total $863 million.

Higher education fared much better under the final budget but still sustained cuts of about 18%, or $160 million. Penn State University received a cut of 19%, or $50 million, in basic support. Community colleges will see a 10% cut, or $23.6 million.

Health Care and Public Welfare

Let's responsibly help the School District

During the last few months, the School District has been trying to close a staggering deficit. The Mayor has proposed two different tax increases to help the district--taxes that go directly to the district. The district is requesting $102M. This is roughly the same amount requested in City Council prior to resolution of the full day kindergarten and transpass issues. The administration proposes giving them $66M. It is $66M then that we need to solve for.

I am opposed to taxes that directly go into the Districts coffers (which is the current proposal). The only real accountability we will have over the District is putting money on the City side, not the district side, of the wall and tossing it over only after they have agreed with our priorities. The administration's plan does not do this.

Last week, an Education Accountability Agreement was signed between the City, District, and Commonwealth. It is nice but mostly theatre. Council has been pressing for greater accountability for the past many weeks, including at the District's May 24th budget hearing, in letters to Philadelphia's state legislators, etc. In fact, Councilman Clarke has proposed a mechanism to provide more funding to the District only if additional accountability measures were in place (Councilman Clarke made this proposal a week before the Education Accountability Agreement was signed or shared with Council)--essentially creating an accountability fund.

Throughout Council's budget hearings and meetings with the District this spring, the focus has been on making sure that programs that generate concrete, successful outcomes for kids are preserved. We have focused our efforts and scarce resources on preserving the existing programs that are proven to work – not create or expand new programs. This was again a theme during Friday's day-long hearing, in which I, Councilman Kenney, Councilwoman Sanchez, and others pressed the District on, for example, why it proposed to fund 18 days of summer school at a cost of $23M rather than 180 days of reduced class sizes at a cost of $21M.

With respect to increasing funding to the District, there is a path forward that provides the District with the additional $66M requested by the City last Friday without raising taxes.

• On the city side, the Administration can generate $6M through increased on-street parking rates; $10M through reductions identified during budget hearings that will not impact services; and $30M through reducing the year-end fund balance, which is proposed to be $50M (by way of comparison, the fund balance levels in FY10-14 Five Year Plan approved by PICA were as follows: FY10 = $2.988M; FY11 = $10.960M; FY12 = $31.377M; FY13 = $10.633M; and FY14 = $79.797M) – a total of $46M.

• On the District side, additional savings are possible by: (1) limiting summer school to those students who need the credits to graduate or move on to the next grade (savings of $10M); (2) keeping Promise Academies at their current size rather than expanding them from 7 to 17 schools (savings of $19M) – again, in this period of limited resources, we should be focused on maintaining existing initiatives that we know work for kids (early childhood education, accelerated schools, etc.), not expanding new programs; and (3) trimming some of the remaining fat in operations/administration – for example, the proposed almost $500K increase in the budget of the Communications Office (we think the savings could sum to $10M) – a total of $39M.

Thus, by making hard but not impossible choices, and without raising taxes, we can put on the table $85M to fund priority items at the District -- such as yellow bus service, reduced class sizes, accelerated schools, early childhood education, school nurses, extended day programs, and arts and music being some of the top priorities, which collectively cost $84M.

The education advocates who appeared before Council last Friday, including PCCY, testified that they were agnostic about where the additional funding came from and were, instead, squarely focused on making sure sufficient funding and accountability measures were in place. Parents United testified that there should be no more resources without accountability (don't get me wrong, they want resources).

I stand ready and willing to help the District find the resources it needs to maintain the programs that are working for our children, but I believe we can do so in a manner that improves accountability and avoids taxing our citizens even more than they are already taxed or relying on revenue measures that are untested subject to legal challenge.

It is time for a new era for education in Philadelphia

I am sitting here trying to think of how to write a clever email about what is happening in Philadelphia right now. But, I am a working mom, and with all the proposed cuts to educational programs here and across Pennsylvania, the end of school approaching, the field trips permission slips I have to find and sign and summer activities to sign up for… well – I am fresh out of clever today.

If you want to skip the narrative and just take action: Click here. We are asking our elected leaders to lead more and invest more to improve the quality of education in the City.

http://salsa.wiredforchange.com/o/6041/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=4...

Third and State This Week: Teacher Salaries, Legislative Updates & Paid Sick Leave in Philadelphia

This week at Third and State, we blogged about teacher salaries and a paid sick leave bill in Philadelphia City Council, along with providing legislative updates on efforts to cut unemployment benefits in Pennsylvania and advance a state budget with deep cuts to education and human services.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

Pa. House Approves $27.3 Billion Budget

A blog post from Chris Lilienthal, originally published on Third and State.

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives voted 109-92 Tuesday to approve a state budget that sets spending at $27.3 billion for the 2011-12 fiscal year — the same amount proposed in Governor Tom Corbett's March budget plan.

The budget cuts $1 billion from public schools and reduces Governor Corbett's budget by $471 million for health and human services for women, children and people with disabilities. It fails to enact a drilling tax on natural gas and leaves untouched a $500 million state revenue surplus.

Teacher Salaries and the Medieval Bloodletting of the Public Schools

A blog post from Stephen Herzenberg, originally published on Third and State.

Many people know Dave Eggers for his entertaining first book An Incredible Work of Staggering Genius. It's the story of the death of both his parents from cancer within a matter of months, and Eggers' subsequent raising of his younger brother to adulthood.

A few weeks ago, a New York Times op-ed, "The High Cost of Low Teacher Salaries," introduced me to the efforts of Eggers and his colleagues to educate the public on the need to elevate the status and salaries of teachers. The op-ed starts with a compelling analogy: when the U.S. runs into challenges in military conflicts, it doesn't start pointing fingers at men and woman fighting in the trenches for low pay and little recognition. Instead, we ask questions about the performance of military leaders and whether we are providing training and supports that give soldiers a chance to succeed.br>
Eggers' work on teachers began with the 2005 book, Teachers Have It Easy, co-authored with Daniel Moulthrop and Nínive Calegari. That book led to The Teacher Salary project, which has the goal of producing a film on the challenges and critical importance of teachers. That film, The American Teacher, began showing across the country earlier in May. (The Keystone Research Center hopes to organize showings in Harrisburg, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh — to get on a list for information on these showings, email frank@keystoneresearch.org, subject line “American Teacher.”)

The Teacher Salary Project seeks to educate Americans that this country has relatively low teacher pay compared to the most successful educational systems in the world. That's one reason it's difficult for American schools to retain their most talented teachers, especially in distressed communities. As Eggers and co-author Nínive Calegari point out in their op ed, heavy retirement in the next decade represent a golden opportunity to recruit a new generation of teachers with compensation, training, and supports essential to high-quality education.

Yet policymakers in Pennsylvania are running hard in the opposite direction. Cuts in public school funding will mean stagnant or lower pay, especially in our poorest districts. More education delivered in charter schools and private schools will mean greater inequality in pay in two senses: a bigger gap, on average, between the charter and private schools serving affluent students and those serving lower-income children; and a bigger gap, again on average, between the pay of school CEOs and principals and the pay of front-line teachers.

When public school performance predictably suffers, any chance this will be used to push privatization of education further? Heh, when the first round of medieval bloodletting doesn’t work, let’s bleed the patient a bit more.

A Quick Take on House GOP Budget Plan

A blog post from Chris Lilienthal, originally published on Third and State.

Pennsylvania House Republican leaders unveiled a state budget plan today that cuts $470 million in health and human services for vulnerable Pennsylvanians, while leaving in tact hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts to schools, full-day kindergarten, Penn State and other colleges.

The plan would restore some of the deep cuts to education proposed in Governor Corbett's budget blueprint — $387 million to the 18 state-supported colleges and universities and $210 million to public schools.

Vern Anastasio is an exemplary reformer, and the best choice for the First

Vern Anastasio, is, far and away, the best choice to represent the First District in Philadelphia City Council.

The First District is diverse in its needs – and Vern has the unique blend of community organizing and professional experience to offer viable solutions.

Vern has made the most palpable commitment to represent the entire first district. The neighborhoods north of Girard Avenue -- Port Richmond, Frankford, Fishtown, and Kensington – have been ignored by City Hall for too long. While other candidates have talked about representing these neighborhoods, Vern has made a tangible move to open a campaign office on Allegheny Avenue, which will remain open as the constituent office if Vern wins.

The Chamber of Commerce is A Collection of People Right? Then Why Isn't the Chamber Crying for Our Kids?

So the Chamber of Commerce-elected Governor and Legislature are bound and determined to kill all-day kindergarden in Philadelphia. Of course, the Chamber won't say it that way. But that's the effect of its actions in demonizing public spending, public employees, and, especially, public schools that have the temerity to . . . of all things . . .employ teachers. Its massive spending in the last cycle was all about electing Republicans everywhere whose overriding mission would be the destruction of the public sphere, except in those cases where the public sector could be given away . . . to members of the Chamber of Commerce.

Third and State This Week: Closing Loopholes, a Flawed School Vouchers Plan and More

This week, we blogged about closing tax loopholes on Tax Day, a deeply flawed school vouchers plan in the state Senate, Governor Corbett's claims about property taxes in Texas, and much more.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

Despite Changes, Senate Voucher Plan Deeply Flawed

A blog post from Stephen Herzenberg, originally published on Third and State.

Next week, the Pennsylvania Senate may take up an amended plan to create the largest-in-the nation private school vouchers program.

While Senate Bill 1 was amended last week, the bill remains deeply flawed.

Despite capping part of the cost, the program will be expensive, with costs approaching half a billion dollars within three years.

In Case You Missed It: Third and State Blog for Week of April 11

This week, we blogged about  adultBasic and (Not So) Special Care, a lack of accountability in the Educational Improvement Tax Credit Program, a fact check on claims about gas drilling in West Virginia and Pennsylvania, and much more.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

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