By Christina Gongaware, Contributing Writer
Education proved to be one of the biggest losers as Gov. Tom Corbett revealed his trimmed budget yesterday, leaving public universities stymied by the 50 percent reduction in funds and K-12 administrators grappling with increasing budget gaps.
“Education cannot be the only industry exempt from recession,” Corbett said in his address yesterday. “We need to change the whole system. We need a new set of priorities: child, parent and teacher — and in that order.”
The four state-affiliated universities (Penn State University, University of Pittsburgh, Temple University and Lincoln University) suffered from the deepest cuts, as their funding will be cut by roughly one half.
For example, The University of Pittsburgh’s budget was slashed from $160.5 million to $80.2 million, and Penn State’s from $334 million to $165 million.
Corbett said that “the fiscal crisis is a time to re-think state spending on higher education.”
State university leaders quickly expressed their discontent with the changes.
Penn State President Graham Spanier immediately called a press conference after the budget was revealed and described the new cuts as “the Commonwealth’s apparent push toward privatization of public higher education, which will force a significant tax on all tuition-paying families of in-state students.” He also predicted that the decrease in funding would “spell catastrophic change for students and (the) state.”
Spier also said that the closing of some of Penn State’s branch campuses would be a “distinct possibility,” though he declared that he would fight to have the funds restored.
“A reduction of this magnitude would necessitate massive budget cuts, layoffs and tuition increases, with a devastating effect on many students, employees and their families,” said Al Horvath, senior vice president for finance and business at Penn State.
Corbett pointed out that tuition has steadily been increasing, even with public funding.
University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Mark Nordenberg spoke with similar concerns as he warned that tuition increases were inevitable. He noted that besides the initial cuts, Pitt will also lose $17 million in funds that aid programs in the health sciences. He said that despite Corbett’s platform of creating jobs and spurring economic growth, the cuts represent what “helped shield this region from the starkest effects of the recession.”
In his address, he declared that “these are choices that will make it far harder for the young people of Pennsylvania to use the power of education to build better lives; choices that will put a real financial squeeze on Pennsylvania families, often still reeling from the effects of the Great Recession; choices that will impede this region’s economic recovery; and choices that make it less likely that Pennsylvania as a state will compete and thrive in the 21st century.”
Pennsylvania schools that are a part of the State System of Higher Education will also feel the sting. They include Kutztown, Clarion, West Chester, Indiana, Slippery Rock and others. Funding for community colleges will also be cut by 10 percent.
“It’s a horrible day to be in public education in Pennsylvania,” said Stephen Hicks, director of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Facilities. “It’s going to hurt students. There’s no way the education mission is going to stay the same if it’s passed.”
At the K-12 level, the basic education subsidy will be decreased by 8.8 percent, returning to 2008-09 levels. Together, the cuts represent a decrease of $1.3 billion. Corbett noted, accurately, that his budget actually increases state funding for public education. Federal stimulus funds that buoyed last year’s numbers have now expired.
Corbett also wants a freeze on teachers’ salaries for one year, which he says would save the state $400 million. He said that eliminating pay increases for teachers with master’s degrees would also save $200 million.
Teacher pay raises would be directly tied to student performance on state tests, and districts would be permitted to lay off teachers for economic reasons.
Along with the planned cuts would also be a voucher program, offering tax money to families and tax credits to businesses to help students attend private and parochial schools. Voters would also be able to reject higher property taxes at the polls.
Corbett also hopes to eliminate two grants initially started by former governor Ed Rendell. For the upcoming fiscal year, the Education Program and Pennsylvania Accountability Grants were together budgeted at $307 million. For the Saucon Valley School District along with others, this would likely create the necessity of ending its full-day kindergarten program.
One of the few expenditures in the public school sector Corbett wants to increase is for abstinence education, which will enjoy a hike from $787 thousand to $2.5 million.
For public schools in the city of Philadelphia, administrators say that the cuts will mean increased class sizes, layoffs and the end of programs like advanced placement.
Other school districts will face similar issues.
“Theres only one place for it to come from – that’s by cutting programs and people,” said Upper Darby Superintendent Louis DeVlieger. “My heart breaks. We’re going right to the bone – there’s no flesh to cut
“We already needed to cut $8 million just to get down more,” said Lawrence Mussoline, Superintendent of Downingtown Area School District. “The loss will cut more away from our educational core. This is very painful… I hate to see state government using public education as a whipping post.”