This afternoon, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett is set to announce his budget for the next fiscal year, and the proposal is being described as "dramatic" and "difficult." Flat state aid for K-12 schools is the best situation expected—many observers expect further cuts on top of last year's regressive reductions in state aid.
Districts—especially poorer ones that rely heavily on state funding—are faced with a serious challenge to make ends meet.
Districts—especially poorer ones that rely heavily on state funding—are faced with a serious challenge to make ends meet. Chester Upland School District has shown what not to do: pretend extra money will appear out of thin air. After spending as if last year's state aid reductions never happened, the district is on the brink of bankruptcy. School boards, superintendents, and union leaders in other Pennsylvania districts have a responsibility to make their budgets work without dragging their schools to the brink.
Pennsylvania's lawmakers bear some responsibility—and blame—here as well, however. How they allocate the cuts needed to balance the state's budget have a real impact on kids, especially those in disadvantaged communities. The Keystone State's legislators ought to ensure that wealthier communities bear the brunt of any cuts in state aid, since they have a more robust local tax base and rely less on dollars from Harrisburg.
What's most striking about the discussion in Pennsylvania over the past couple of budget cycles is how little anyone is talking about long-term changes to how schools there operate. The pension system is underfunded, and likely to get worse in coming years—where is the talk of retirement reform for public-sector workers? How about collective bargaining, either through state-level reforms or greater pressure applied by school boards in negotiating the contracts governing workers in their districts?
The short-term pain is very real across Pennsylvania, and everyone with a stake in public education in the state shares responsibility for getting kids through that unscathed. Pretending that the pain is only short-term—and avoiding lasting change in how school dollars are spent—is looking like the real crisis.