Back to School, with Budget Cuts

By David Gerber, Contributing Writer

It’s the beginning of a new school year in Pennsylvania, and Pennsylvania Democrats are on a full-court press to emphasize the impacts of budget cuts in districts across the state.

Today, the party debuted a web video contrasting a variety of  Governor Corbett’s August activities with headlines about students and school districts suffering. In recent days, the party has forwarded reporters a dozen news articles concerning ramifications of the GOP’s state budget.

Ultimately, that budget constituted a seven percent decrease in public education spending from last year’s numbers. But, and this is an important but, the decrease includes expired federal stimulus spending. State spending on education will increase by $492 million.

That’s little consolation to teachers losing their jobs, or students losing out on programs, argue Democrats, who continue to push the issue.

Update: Dem Party spokesman Mark Nicastre notes that spending on a number of education items such as charter school reimbursements have also taken a hit, making the overall impact more broad.

Here are a few news reports and statements they have highlighted:

This ThinkProgress piece picked up on a story in Stateline, about the Carlisle Area School District saving money by using sheep to cut grass instead of a grounds crew.

Editorial Note: Neither ThinkProgress nor Stateline cited the Patriot News article and intrepid reporter Elizabeth Gibson (yes, relation) that broke the Carlisle sheep story. The outrage!

Hit hardest by these Republican budget cuts was Philadelphia, which absorbed more than a quarter, or nearly $300 million, of the one billion plus budget decrease.

According to The Notebook, “Overall, the final budget will cut Philadelphia’s per-pupil funding by about $1,300 per student. It already spends far less per student than many of the wealthier surrounding suburbs.”

Since it fell short of its goal of getting $57 million in additional funds from the state, the District is now facing an additional $35 million in cuts, which will likely mean more layoffs besides the more than 3,400 already put into place to close a $629 million shortfall, according to the District’s chief financial officer, Michael Masch.

Philadelphia Democrats are speaking out against the GOP budget with full fledged force. Rep. James Roebuck, Democratic chair of the House Education Committee, said the budget “is clearly designed to hurt poor school districts and benefit rich school districts. That is wrong, especially when Republicans are choosing to leave up to $700 million in unexpected [surplus] revenue untouched.”

Also commenting was Sen. Vincent Hughes, another Philadelphia Democrat. Hughes argued that “This governor clearly has in his mind an attempt to boldly change public education from what we know it to be. We need to be thoughtfully prepared for the sea change that may be hitting us.”

Other areas have also felt the heavy burden as well. According to Lancaster online, Warwick School District is restructuring more than 20 employee positions and reducing hours in order to cut costs for the school district, officials reported Aug. 16. Most of the positions included special needs assistant, learning support assistants and computer assistants, who will see former daily schedules of seven hours cut anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours.

Reported by Patriot News, in Harrisburg School District, teachers and staff are ‘nervous’ about changes as the school year approaches. As part of its $124 million budget for 2011-12, the district cut 153 teaching positions and closed four school buildings. At least 65 teachers remain on the furlough list, according to Sherri Magnuson, president of the Harrisburg Education Association, the union for the district teachers. Others, she said, “reluctantly left the district to find employment elsewhere.”

Keegan Gibson contributed to this report.

August 24th, 2011 | Posted in Front Page Stories, Harrisburg | No Comments