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June 30: Rendell not budging on funding boost

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

While it doesn’t always work this way, June 30 is the day by which Pennsylvania state government is supposed to adopt a budget. From this budget, school districts finally learn with certainty how much state aid will be available to them.

This year, Philadelphia has hopes of a massive $300 million infusion of new state funds for schools … in large part courtesy of federal stimulus dollars. But news reports from Harrisburg indicate no end in sight to the legislative wrangling over the budget, which means continued uncertainty for any district that is counting on a funding increase.

Governor Rendell appears to be keeping public education funding at the top of his priority list in the political maneuvering with the Republican-led Senate. Last week, following up on proposals for a tax increase, he offered cuts totaling $500 million to his original budget plan, in response to reports that the state’s deficit had grown to $3.2 billion. While many areas, including higher ed, are hard-hit, funding for K-12 is largely spared in the governor’s latest proposal.

His Classrooms for the Future program may be chopped, but Rendell reiterated his big-ticket commitment to a $418 million increase in basic education funding to keep Pennsylvania on target with its six-year plan for equalizing funding among districts. Groups like the Pennsylvania School Funding campaign have been pushing this approach, and published this action alert today.

Republicans have argued that education funding should not get a boost this year and want to use the stimulus dollars to allow the state to spend that much less of its own revenues.

Rendell earlier got some support in his budget battle from the Obama administration when Secretary of Education Arne Duncan sent a warning letter to Pennsylvania that the feds will be looking at how states use the stimulus money and states that are putting education funds to good use will stand a better chance of qualifying for a forthcoming $5 billion pot of "Race to the Top" funding.

Follow developments with the budget here on the Notebook blog.