School funding restored... but will it help?
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett signed the state budget into law minutes before it would’ve been tardy and, with the legislation, restored funding to public schools that had been subtracted in previous drafts.
Because of improving state revenue, the governor and the legislature restored approximately $600 billion to Corbett’s original proposal and with that, public schools received the same appropriation that was handed to them for the 2011-2012 school year. While some will argue that flat funding is not an increase, the governor’s original budget proposal called for funding cuts from 2011-2012 levels. “I don’t think too many school districts got too far ahead of the message,” said Tim Shrom, business manager for the Solanco School District in Lancaster County. “In the 2010-2011 budget, everyone got used to the reductions. A lot of people had those numbers and knew what was happening. We did the same thing, budgeting flat with the exception of ABG funds.”
Grants, programs and Pre-K
ABG funds are Accountability Block Grants, and in the governor’s original proposal, all of the ABG money was taken away. The ABG funds are utilized by most school districts to operate pre-school and all-day kindergarten programs. Without that funding, many districts were going to cut those programs, thus ending a critical early education component for the children in those districts. “There’s a stream of research that shows that Pre-K and kindergarten are important for building basics for success later in life,” said Dave Davare, director of research services for the Pennsylvania School Boards Association. “The state needed to do some things in Harrisburg and York City, and having that funding for those programs will help to move those students forward in school.”
The final budget restored $100 million for the ABG program, and another group of winners were distressed school districts. Harrisburg ($1.7 million), Lancaster ($2.4 million) and York ($5.4 million) city school districts all were granted additional funding above the normal budget lines. The state Department of Education offered no clear formula for determining what it considers a financially distressed school district, but 15 school districts statewide were granted these extra funds.
Cuts still needed
Despite what appears to be a better outcome than originally anticipated, school districts still have been tightening their proverbial financial belts. When one considers the fact that the costs to operate schools did not stay flat, business managers and school boards continue to find ways to make ends meet. Districts still are furloughing teachers and administrators, cutting programs and consolidating operations wherever possible.
“We came through our budget process fairly well,” said Dennis Younkin, director of finance and support services for the York Suburban School District. “We’re looking at a $1.5 million deficit. We decided to offer a retirement incentive to the teaching staff and enough people accepted that we were able to reduce costs by about $650,000. We took back some classes from the Intermediate Unit, we’ve reduced our energy costs, reduced our work week, and reduced the deficit to where we had a balanced budget.”
Despite the seemingly positive developments, some key budget quandaries remain unsolved. Special education funding remains flat, and there continues to be no formula for funding charter schools and cyber charter schools. School districts are required to pay for these services, but no longer receive any support from the state to do so. “Charter schools and cybers are another no-choice program that are not funded nor shared in the funding,” Younkin said. “Our costs have risen the past three or four years from a quarter million to $900,000 for the 2012-13 budget. Cyber charters have grown exponentially without any support from the state. Districts like Philadelphia and York City are really, really struggling with that problem.”