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Gov. Corbett’s school budget proposal draws mixed reviews

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

Gov. Corbett delivered his annual budget address in Harrisburg yesterday, indicating that public school funding would see an increase of $369 million. Two-thirds of that – $241 million – will be directed to the "Ready to Learn" block grant focused on early learning, STEM education, and supplemental instruction. Basic education funding, however, remained flat. Philadelphia will get a $29 million increase through the grant program.

The Notebook gathered reactions to the budget proposal from several education advocates and organizations.

Susan Gobreski, executive director
Education Voters of PA

Anytime we are not increasing support for basic education, we are going backwards: With rising costs for the programs that we have now, which have already been cut, we will have to cut more of what we have now to make things work, and that is unacceptable.

People will be assessing this budget by how much it delivers services for children. Do programs come back into our schools, do class sizes shrink, do children have libraries? Overall, this is a marked improvement over previous years, but we shouldn’t be in this situation with a gap in funding in the first place, and that continues to be a concern. That’s why we would consider Gov. Corbett’s proposal a mixed bag.

Jerry Jordan, president
Philadelphia Federation of Teachers

Two years of unprecedented school budget cuts have left our children without counselors, nurses, teachers, librarians, and non-instructional staff. While we welcome any increase in education funding, without a formula to provide fair and sustainable public school funding, the governor’s budget line for education is not enough to make school districts whole again. Rather than have annual piecemeal increases to education funding, Pennsylvania needs to adopt a long-term, sustainable funding formula for our schools.

Donna Cooper, executive director
Public Citizens for Children and Youth

This budget takes a step forward in restoring the $1 billion in cuts made to classroom spending three years ago. However, the Philadelphia School District will see only about $30 million in restored classroom funding if the governor’s proposal is enacted by the Legislature and how those funds can be used ties the District’s hands in ways that don’t make sense.

The likelihood that the governor’s partial restoration of huge state cuts of 2011 will materialize may be remote since the administration’s budget proposal is balanced by increasing the state debt, deferring state payments to future years, enacting tough pension changes in an election year and one-time funding sources.

Helen Gym, co-founder
Parents United

The governor’s paltry handout to Philadelphia ensures that our children will live yet another year without adequate librarians, counselors, nurses, and teaching staff. It’s another year of parents scrambling for resources, paying for basic services in schools, and seeking charitable handouts to sustain even the best as well as the most basic of programs.

Mayor Michael Nutter

I am pleased that the governor’s budget proposal has begun to respond to the enormous needs that the Philadelphia School District and school districts around the state are facing as we all strive to serve the needs of students. My education team and I will carefully review the proposal so that we can fully understand the implications for our public school students. And we will continue to work closely with Dr. William Hite and his District staff as they implement his vision and strategy for improving educational outcomes for our children.

And as we continue to push for full and fair funding for public education statewide, we will also focus on creating sustainable and predictable funding – measures before the Pennsylvania General Assembly such as a cigarette tax and a proposal to split the distribution of the 1 percent sales tax extension between Philadelphia schools and the city’s Pension Fund, legislation that would then require action by the Philadelphia City Council to pass the amended state sales tax bill.

Philadelphia School Partnership

We welcome the governor’s proposals to invest in education, especially early learning, through additional K-12 and pre-K funding in the next state budget, and his call for a bipartisan solution to the pension problem that looms large for schools all across the Commonwealth.

Pennsylvania’s ability to invest in its future has to be rooted in reform of the unsustainable if well-intended practices of the past.

Action United

Gov. Corbett’s budget address yesterday proposed $400 million for public education, leaving us still woefully short on the $1 billion he cut three years ago. Gov. Corbett must be counting on Pennsylvanians to have short-term memory loss. But parents know why their children don’t have nurses, guidance counselors, librarians or textbooks. For those of us in Philadelphia, the $29 million we’re budgeted for (with lots of string attached) is less than 10 percent of the projected district deficit this year. We need a governor who takes educating all children seriously, who supports not only full funding but fair funding.

Sharon Ward, executive director
Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center

It is clear Gov. Corbett has heard the voices of Pennsylvanians who disapprove of cuts to Pennsylvania’s public schools. This budget reverses course, providing a welcome increase in dollars to the classroom. However, the proposed Ready to Learn block grant will not allow districts to restore the basics upon which quality education is built: small class sizes, extended learning, art, music, sports, nurses and counselors, and enrichment programs. The foundation of public education has been deeply damaged; restoring that foundation should be Harrisburg’s first priority.

Responses compiled by Notebook interns Daniel Hampton and Jeseamy Muentes.

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