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As tension grows in Harrisburg, advocates rally

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Just 15 days remain to resolve a budget deadlock in Harrisburg that will determine how the state responds to its $3.2 billion revenue shortfall and whether Philadelphia schools see a projected and hoped-for $300+ million boost in revenues that would fund dozens of proposed reform initiatives.

With Governor Rendell convening an emergency cabinet meeting on Wednesday and preparing to announce more proposed reductions in the state budget, education advocates are hoping he will stand firm on his commitment to use over $700 million in federal stimulus dollars to boost the state’s contribution to local education spending. Republican legislators have advocated holding education spending at current levels despite the infusion of federal money, and they continue to push for larger spending cuts.

Today, a coalition of advocacy groups assembled at the state capitol and said they’d much prefer to see a small increase in the state income tax than the gutting of programs that serve low-income families and senior citizens.

In a new twist, a top Republican legislator has just indicated openness to tackling the state’s deficit by allowing table games at the state’s casinos. Already, the governor had his eye on another source of gambling revenue – video poker – as a way of providing college tuition relief in the state.

Education funding is one of the big discrepancies between Rendell’s budget proposal and the counterproposal put forward by Senate Republicans, which would spend $1.7 billion less.

While Rendell’s budget already includes $1 billion in service cuts and funding reductions and more proposed cuts to come this week, so far most education programs have been spared. Rendell has stuck with the commitment from last summer to provide six years of substantial increases in education funding to meet adequacy targets for the state’s many underfunded school districts. The Education Law Center and other groups have put together documentation of the impact of last year’s first installment of expanded funding.

Information on education advocacy work at the state level can be found on the Web sites of groups like the Pennsylvania School Funding Campaign, Good Schools Pennsylvania, and Education Voters of Pennsylvania.