(Apr 30) Public education groups call for restoring $900 million in school funding cut two years ago

Public education groups are calling on Gov. Tom Corbett and state lawmakers to make a three-year commitment to restore the $900 million cut from public school funding two years ago.

The groups say they can start next year by approving a $270 million increase in the basic education subsidy districts receive to cover operating costs.

At a news conference today in the Capitol Rotunda, representatives from groups that have mounted what they call the Pennsylvania School Funding Campaign lamented the toll the funding cuts have had on districts.

Early education programs have been cut, class sizes have grown larger, tutoring has been eliminated. Joe Bard, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools, said at a recent conference of rural district superintendents and board members, a topic of discussion was how long before their districts go bankrupt.

“Without greatly increased funding, our schools and our children face a grim future,” Bard said.

He noted that since Corbett and many lawmakers are adamantly opposed to raising taxes, it’s time to look at cancelling Corbett’s proposed business tax cuts.

Tim Eller, a spokesman for the state Department of Education, said whether additional money is put into public schools next year will be a topic of the upcoming budget negotiations between Corbett and lawmakers.

The $900 million cut that the groups referenced resulted from the one-time federal stimulus funding going away, Eller said. He said the nearly $5.5 billion that Corbett proposed investing in public schools next year is the highest level of state funding ever provided to school districts.

“Every time you hear these types of discussions or rallies going on, all it is is more money, more money,” Eller said. “The amount of (federal, state and local) money being spent on public schools is nearly $27 billion, which is double what it was 15 years ago. If we were at $34 billion, they would still say we need more money.”

Ron Cowell, president of the Harrisburg-based Education Policy and Leadership Center, said for most of the past two decades, the state budget has been balanced by shifting more of the burden of funding public education on local taxpayers.

“As a result, we have one of the most unfair systems of funding public education in the nation,” Cowell said.

Some school districts spend two-and-a-half to three times of what other districts spend to educate each student. The deep funding cut two years ago worsened the inequities that exist.

“This year, the governor and General Assembly must act together to substantially reverse this trend.”

Aside from restoring $270 million for public schools in next year’s budget and the remaining $630 million over the next two, the group also seeks a more equitable funding distribution formula, reforms that lessen districts’ costs of funding charter schools, cost-of-living increases in funding for special education and career and technical education, and assurances that financially distressed districts have the resources to educate student to meet state academic standards.

Find the full article, here: Public education groups call for restoring $900 million in school funding cut two years ago Jan Murphy, The Patriot-News, 4/30/13


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