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Blogging the state education budget

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

I’m Rajiv Venkataramanan and I’ll be adding my voice to the conversations taking place on the Notebook blog. I am currently the Fels Fellow at the Notebook, focusing my research and writing on the politics and economics of education funding in Pennsylvania.

Through this blog, I’ll do my best to keep an eye on funding and budget related issues, and specifically how they will affect education across the state. Today’s post is about the biggest funding/budget related issue currently on everyone’s mind: the state budget.

Despite a seven-year track record of late budgets, powerbrokers in Harrisburg are hinting today that there could be a finalized state budget agreed upon this week. The tentative agreement–tentative being the operative word–revolves around a $28.05 billion budget, one that is wedged between Governor Rendell’s initial proposal of around $29 billion and the Republicans’ proposal of around $27.5 billion.

What would this budget mean for education in Pennsylvania? Well, to begin with, Gov. Rendell’s plan to increase basic education funding by $354 million for this fiscal year would be trimmed down to a $250 million increase. The Democratic governor, who has a reputation of ferociously protecting education funding, has agreed to the reduced increases for Pennsylvania’s schools.

Furthermore, all observers should keep in mind that this tentative budget of $28.05 billion has $850 million of federal Medicaid funding built into it, despite the fact that the Congress is showing no signs that it will actually dole out that amount to Pennsylvania. Current estimates have the Feds forking over only around $300 million of federal Medicaid funding to Pennsylvania, leaving a gaping hole of around $550 million that Pennsylvania must deal with.

And how would the state deal with such a revenue shortfall? Cuts, cuts, and more cuts. Though Republicans and Democrats in Pennsylvania rarely ever agree on anything, both parties grimly acknowledge that this lack of federal funding could result in thousands of job losses across the state. And education advocates should be concerned, as Gov. Rendell himself has warned that those job cuts will probably include teachers in public schools.

Although it seems like our state is in deep fiscal trouble, it’s still too early tell how this will all play out. It’s possible that Democrats and Republicans in Harrisburg come together around this $28.05 billion budget and actually pass it. Furthermore, Rendell and a group of governors have convened in D.C. to ask Congress to pass federal Medicaid funding, warning legislators in D.C. of the massive job losses and cuts states will have to make otherwise. It remains to be seen whether Rendell and his fellow governors will succeed in convincing the feds to distribute the desperately-needed funds to their cash-strapped states.

Tomorrow, July 1 at noon, the Southeastern PA Budget Coalition will lead a rally at City Hall to protest the cuts to social services and programs that the current budget proposals make.

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