Over the past five years, Harrisburg has mastered the art of pitting school districts, parents, and students against each other in order to draw attention away from the damage their policies and the lack of adequate state education funding have inflicted on children, schools, and communities throughout the Commonwealth.
In the 2015-2016 budget, lawmakers tossed out a handful of crumbs in new state dollars to school districts desperate for state funding. They then proceeded to encourage school districts and parents to fight over these crumbs by telling Pennsylvanians that there would be winners and losers in the 2015-2016 budget, depending on how this new money was distributed.
Creating a school funding Hunger Games and manipulating schools districts and parents to fight against each other for crumbs has been a brilliant political move for lawmakers who don’t support funding education. So many school districts and parents have been focused on who gets more and who gets less, that most have failed to notice that every single school district in Pennsylvania is a loser with the 2015-2016 budget, no matter how the funding is distributed.
Lawmakers who support the 2015-2016 budget have good reasons for wanting to distract people from closely examining this document.
The 2015-2016 budget, which is a creature of the Republican Party, contains a meager increase for schools that is less than 2%. This increase doesn’t pay for the state-mandated cost increases all school district will face, let alone allow school districts to begin rebuilding their schools after years of deep cuts in opportunities for children.
This budget fails to address Pennsylvania’s charter school law, which Auditor General Eugene DePasquale recently called, “the worst in the United States.” This budget continues to send about $200 million in state funding intended for children with special needs to charter schools to be used to pay their operating expenses. This budget proposes to pay for construction reimbursement payments owed to school districts by issuing $2.5 billion in bonds and incurring at least $1.5 BILLION in interest payments and bank fees. Lawmakers have not shared how they plan to pay off this substantial new debt.
Harrisburg’s 2015-2016 budget ensures that Pennsylvania will continue to have the shameful distinction of having the most inequitable school funding in the nation, where our poorest students receive the fewest opportunities. In fact, if lawmakers continue to provide this level of state funding increase in future budgets, they will ensure that children in preschool today will graduate from high school before the inequities in Pennsylvania’s school funding system are fixed.
While Harrisburg continues to haggle over how to distribute the crumbs in this state budget, it is time for Pennsylvanians who believe all children deserve a chance to get a quality education to stop fighting against each other in our districts and instead focus our attention on the Capitol. We must hold lawmakers accountable for the decisions they make that hurt our children and our schools and put an end to Harrisburg’s school funding Hunger Games.