Accelify Blog

Even With State Subsidy, Pennsylvania School Budgets Facing Cuts (PA)

July 2, 2010

Even though the new state budget would increase the main public-education subsidy, the funding would not protect schools from making cuts next year, some school leaders say.

Most have already had to reduce staff and make other cuts to balance their budgets for next year, which had to be passed by June 30. The large majority are also raising taxes, many by more than the rate of inflation.

Cuts that were made to Gov. Rendell’s proposed budget in the final version that passed Wednesday "just whittle more away from what was a bad scenario to start with," said Joseph Bruni, the superintendent in Delaware County’s William Penn School District, which has already cut 28 teaching jobs and three administrative staff posts. "It just makes things worse in a budget year that is already difficult."

Philadelphia will get about $35 million less than it had planned on, said Michael Masch, the district’s chief business officer. Even with a total budget of $3.2 billion, "that’s a large enough reduction that will hurt somewhat," he said, but it will be several months before the district makes a final decision on what changes it will need to make.

The state budget – which still awaits Rendell’s signature – contains a $250 million, 4.5 percent hike in basic education funding, Pennsylvania’s largest subsidy program for local school districts. And it shows a small overall increase – about 1.4 percent – in overall state education spending.

Rendell had sought an increase of $355 million in basic education spending, but that was cut back in negotiations with the Republican-controlled Senate. Still, the current budget continues a steady increase in state funding for education after Rendell took office. Since 2003, the basic education subsidy has increased by just over 41 percent, to almost $5.8 billion. Pennsylvania’s total education budget, including higher education and federal funding, is about $14.1 billion.

Most state education programs were left at current levels in the new budget and some were cut. Those that saw trims include such Rendell favori tes as early childhood education initiatives, which will have to cut about 300 children statewide; funding that allows students to take postsecondary courses while still in high school; and an elementary school science program.

Funding was also cut by $12 million from last year’s $271 million Accountability Block Grant program, which gives districts a chunk of money to spend on a menu of items such as reducing elementary school class size and full-day kindergarten. State reimbursements for district charter school expenses were also cut.

Money will decrease for special education and help for poor students next school year as a result of about $500 million less coming to Pennsylvania schools from the federal government.

State funding for special education was not increased for the last two school years and for 2010-11 because federal stimulus funding has bolstered school district budgets; that federal funding will disappear at the end of the next school year.

Though the legislature passed the budget by the June 30 deadline for the first time during Rendell’s tenure as governor, it might not be a closed book. If $850 million the state is hoping to get from Washington to help fund federally mandated Medicaid obligations doesn’t come through in the near future, Rendell and state legislators have said they would have to reopen the budget and make more cuts.