11 Aug Pa. to Get $1 Billion for Teacher Jobs, Medicaid (PA)

August 11, 2010

By: Eleanor Chute and Tom Barnes
Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Pennsylva nia will receive $668 million to help pay for Medicaid and $387.8 million to save K-12 education jobs as a result of a $26 billion bill signed Tuesday night by President Barack Obama.

The U.S. House of Representatives approved the bill Tuesday on a 247-161 vote, with most Democrats in favor and most Republicans opposed. Two Pittsburgh area Democrats, Reps. Jason Altmire of McCandless and Mike Doyle of Forest Hills, voted for the bill.

The Senate approved it on Thursday on a 61-39 vote.

The bill included about $16 billion in medical assistance for the poor and $10 billion for education jobs.

In a phone news conference Tuesday after the House vote, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said the education jobs provision "provides a natural lifeline for schools that are facing what might be the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression."

Noting cuts were made to fund the measure, he said, "This is the right thing to do at the right time for the right reasons and does not add a nickel to the long-term deficit."

The Pennsylvania Legislature approved a budget for 2010-11 based on the hope of receiving $850 million in Medicaid funding.

Gov. Ed Rendell, who once predicted as many as 12,000 layoffs if no additional Medicaid money were received, has said that, with $600 million, some layoffs are still possible next month. The governor and legislative leaders are expected to meet to decide how to close that gap.

The federal education jobs money is expected to save about 161,000 education jobs nationwide, including about 5,900 in Pennsylvania. The money is designated for only compensation of teachers and other staff at the school level, not central administrator pay, facilities or other expenses. States will have to show that they are maintaining their effort to fund education to qualify for the money.

With just about two weeks left before many school districts resume classes, Mr. Duncan said the department was streamlining the application process for the jobs money, will have applications for states ready in a couple of days and will try to get it out to states in a matter of weeks of an approved application.

"We feel a huge sense of urgency here," he said, urging states to save the jobs now, not wait until the second semester.

The grants are not competitive. All states and the District of Columbia are eligible for a set amount based on population as long as they comply with the rules. States can choose how to allocate the money, using their standard formulas or their formula for Title 1, a program aimed at low-income students.

In June before the state budget was passed, two-thirds of the school districts responding to a survey said they planned to reduce instructional staff this fall. The survey was taken by the Pennsylvania School Funding Campaign and coordinated by the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials and the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators.

How many school layoffs are still being planned is a moving target.

After that survey, the Legislature passed a budget that provided $250 million more for basic subsidy, cut more than $100 million out of other education spending and lowered the employer contribution to pension plans.

Pittsburgh Public Schools spokeswoman Ebony Pugh said furlough notices went out to 37 full- time staff last week as well as three other full-time staff members who were reduced to part time.

Since then, six of the full-time members have been recalled, and two of the partial furloughs were restored to full time. She anticipates at least some others will be recalled as well through leaves of absence and attrition.

Mr. Altmire said he had opposed earlier versions of the bill, which totaled as much as $180 billion, because the spending wasn’t paid for and would have increased the federal deficit.

"I played a constructive role in this process," he said, by ensuring that the $26 billion in spending was fully paid for by changing the corporate tax code and reducing food stamp costs.

"We closed loopholes in the tax code that incentivized corporations to send jobs overseas," he said. "This is a bill that got better through the [legislative] process."

Mr. Doyle said 42 governors — 26 Democrats and 16 Republicans — urged Congress to approve the Medicaid/education money, which they needed to balance their state budgets and avoid thousands of layoffs of teachers and safety workers.

"If we had not acted, there would have been a serious impact in Pennsylvania and across the country," he said. "Education is certainly an area you don’t want to skimp on.”

U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, was among the Republicans who voted against the bill.

"There are no winners with this vote," he said in a statement. "The majority holding power in Congress only offered a choice between cutting food stamps or cutting health care for the poor. The burden is placed on the backs of those already weakened by poverty.

"Everyone agrees that for the sake of our children’s education, we don’t want teachers placed into the unemployment line. But it is unacceptable to cut the food stamp program to pay for teacher retention. There are alternatives to pay for these priorities, and I stand ready to work with my colleagues on this issue."

Jim Buckheit, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators, said he believed that the job money would help soften the blow in many school districts in the state, but that he viewed the Medicaid money as even more important because the expectation was part of the reason the state increased the basic education subsidy by $250 million.

James Testerman, president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, a teachers union, called the day of passage "an important day for children in Pennsylvania and across the country.

"The Education Jobs Fund will allow teachers and education support professionals to keep working hard to educate students."

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