The “magical thinking” of House Bill 2328 passed on June 30 by the PA Senate is based upon revenue that may or may not exist, and according to Sharon Ward, the Director of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center will “explode before the year is out.” You can read more details about the actual budget on the PA Budget and Policy webpage.
The House budget includes 110 million to fund the state school pension subsidy rejecting the Governor’s plan to make reductions. The cigarette tax just passed the House (74 democrats, 45 republicans), which will bring additional funds to the beleaguered School District of Philadelphia totaling 40-45 million in its first year. This will assist in closing the expected 93 billion dollar budget gap. Hopefully, the actual language included in the cigarette tax will be available to the public soon. There are new rules regarding the charter renewal process, which may undermine what the SRC currently does. In other words, new operators can make appeals to the state board if they are denied by the SRC. Read more here.
The entire budget that totals 29.1 billion dollars is approximately 1.1% less than the proposed budget from February and it does not raise any taxes leaving the individual counties to increase their own property taxes, which has been increased annually for the past several years. Public libraries are flat funded erasing the $500,000 increase proposed by the Governor. Estimated educational subsidies for Philadelphia County will increase by 2.9%.
Another hit to low income and minority students comes in the reduction of the PHEAA Ready to Succeed scholarships, which were reduced from 25 million to 5 million. The budget for higher education did not budge resulting in more tuition increases for local colleges and universities. Pennsylvania is 1 of 8 states that continue to not restore funding cuts to higher education. Over the last 6 years despite the tuition increases, 540 jobs have been eliminated and 189 academic programs have been frozen or discontinued. This makes college even less of a reality and “worsens the gap between rich and poor families” (Ward).
Despite the mixed wins of the Pennsylvania budget, there continues to be a negative impact on those counties that have high rates of poverty. Several ideas to increase educational funding across the entire state were left at the wayside. The expansion of Medicaid, the taxing of Marcellus Shale, the charter school reimbursement, and the creation of a fair funding formula are just a few.
With the election around the corner, it is vital that we are all aware of the “magical budget” that was just passed. Locally, in Philadelphia, the budget not only provides less than the basics for K-12, it also squeezes many out of achieving a college degree. Not to mention the continued threat to pensions for those who have worked many years fully expecting and deserving monies at retirement. And if you are curious to find out if it is only Pennsylvania, simply look to New York, Illinois, and New Jersey to confirm that this is a national dilemma. This fight is far from over.