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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

An Increase or a Decrease?

Yesterday, March 5th, it was time for Secretary Ron Tomalis to testify in front of the House Appropriation Committee. I was curious to see if this budget hearing would be similar to the Senate’s budget hearing last week. In that hearing, it seemed that people were unhappy with the lack of leadership to support public education and the cuts the Governor has proposed. I was wrong. There was not the frustration in the room seen last week, there was actual praise for the “leadership” of the Secretary (huh?). In some cases, it seemed certain easy questions were planted so that he could get in all of his talking points.

The main focus of this hearing was whether funding for education was an increase or a decrease.

Now you would think whether or not the budget for education has been cut would be an easy thing to determine, but there was a lot of disagreement. The hearing started out with charts being distributed by the some members of Appropriations. The purpose of these charts was to show the accounting gimmicks Corbett and his Administration are using to say there is an increase in education when there is none.

Rep. Matt Bradford asked the Secretary if he agreed that state funding for K-12 in 2012-13 (post-stimulus budget) at$5.3 billion is reduced from the $5.8 billion funding level in 2008-09 (pre-stimulus budget). The Secretary disagreed, stating that you need to consider the $300 million in pension contributions (which are state mandated). Tomalis argued that this should be considered in the instructional cost of having a teacher in a classroom. But neither the 2008-09 funding ($5.8 billion) nor the 2012-13 proposed funding ($5.3 million) include pension contributions. Seems like a decrease to me.

The second is it or is it not there question was the Accountability Block Grant. In this year’s budget, the state legislature and Governor inserted the $100 million in ABG as an addition to the just-ending budget year’s school funding (ending June 2011) for it to be spent in the current school year ending in June 2012 (which it was). The Secretary argued that since it was not actually included in this year’s budget and is not proposed in next year’s, there is no decrease. I have a feeling school districts across the Commonwealth who are currently using that $100 million to fund programs such as full-day kindergarten and tutoring would beg to differ when they don’t have those funds next year. What do you think?

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