The fiscal year is over and a new budget has been passed for FY 2012-13, which includes some victories and some defeats for education issues.
The Good: By working together and speaking up, we were successful in getting funding restored in both Senate and House budget proposals which the Governor proposed be cut in his budget. Basic Education Funding (BEF), the Accountability Block Grant, Higher Education and Early Ed were not cut any further over last year’s devastating cuts. Included in the basic education line item is $50 million for fiscally distressed schools, $10 million of which will be in the form of zero-interest loans.
The Bad: This cements the drastic funding cuts education received in this current year’s current budget. As revenues continue to come in higher than projected, our job moving forward will be to continue to remind our legislators of the importance of providing a quality education to ALL students in Pennsylvania, the benefits of these investments and urge them to fight to restore the resources needed to support the programs our children need to learn.
Public Funds for Private Education: Vouchers and EITC/EITC 2.0
The Good: For over a year, we have been fighting voucher supporters/special interests and their deep special interest pockets in their attempt to push a voucher program that would send taxpayer dollars to private institutions. There is no evidence of success and no accountability or transparency for these public funds and the majority of the money would likely go to students already enrolled in private schools. Understanding that voters of Pennsylvania strongly oppose such a program, these special interests --and the legislators they fund -- settled for an expansion of a program that already exists. The funding was capped at $50 million and although it does draw money from the state budget, it won’t be subtracted from the basic education line item.
The Bad: This program expansion (EITC increases and EISC) are really kind of “back door vouchers” and they do re-direct funding away from our general revenues and limits funds that could be used to prevent other cuts.
The Good: Instituting a “statewide authorizer” for charter schools was a budget priority for Governor Corbett, but he lost that fight. A statewide authorizing entity would have removed local control and input on the creation of charter schools in local school districts, all the while leaving local taxpayers with the responsibility to pay for them. Legislators heard the concerns of their constituents, including the need for thorough updating to charter school law that isn’t rushed through at the last minute, and public involvement helped ensure that the bad elements of the proposal were not passed.
The Bad: Since the proposed policy included some bad provisions, a number of needed updates to current policy were not made; including fixes to the current funding structure. Charter schools are part of the public education landscape and we need sensible reform to fix the flawed funding structure, to promote fairness, transparency and accountability, to make sure communities have a say, and to allow charters to fulfill their mission. Moving forward, we will need to continue our fight against a statewide authorizer and in urging our legislators to enact real charter school funding reform.
The Good: Legislation (SB 1115) promoting the equitable distribution of special education funding actually passed both chambers and created an important conversation about this issue. As a result of the process and excellent work done by both advocates and legislative champions, more legislators deepened their understanding of how special education funding works (or hasn’t).
The Bad: Unfortunately, SB 1115 was held hostage during budget negotiations. In the fall it will be imperative to make sure that our legislators move this important legislation forward, unencumbered by other issues, and start providing equitable funding to Pennsylvania’s neediest students.
The Good: This budget season is a great example of how your voices have an impact on state policy. Thank you for the many thousands of calls and emails you sent to your legislators in the last few months. Most importantly, thank you for the continuous support you’ve given to the students of Pennsylvania to help ensure sure that they receive an opportunity to learn.
Susan GobreskiExecutive Director