The new state budget has been in place for about two weeks now, but its impact on public schools is still being sorted out. “We don’t know yet how many teachers wound up being furloughed, and how many program cuts, so we’re trying to gather that information,” says Tom Gentzel, executive director of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA).
Governor Tom Corbett points out that state education funding has actually increased. “When it comes to the basic education formula, we actually increased it over the 2008/2009 level,” Corbett said on Radio PA’s monthly “Ask the Governor” program. He places blame on the prior administration for cutting school funding from the state, only to back-fill with federal stimulus money. “That money is gone,” Corbett concluded.
By balancing their budgets with federal stimulus money, Corbett says many school districts set themselves up to fall off this funding cliff. At least one school district got it right though, according to Corbett. He singled out Northern Lehigh School District on the program. “They did not take the federal money and put it into their basic funding formula. They haven’t laid anybody off, they haven’t cut any classes, they were – in my opinion – responsible in that.”
However, the PSBA’s Tom Gentzel stresses it was the legislature who put the federal money into schools’ regular appropriation. “So this wasn’t just a decision on the part of school districts… it was a part of the state funding for education,” Gentzel explains. He adds that school districts are feeling the pain beyond the basic education funding line item.
When including the federal stimulus money, basic education funding was trimmed by about $400-million dollars (though Governor Corbett was correct when he said the state’s share increased). The Accountability Block Grants, which fund full-day kindergarten programs, were cut by about $150-million dollars. Completely eliminated was the reimbursement of charter schools. That line item received more than $220-million dollars last year.