Reports out of Harrisburg indicate that the long-stalled negotiations over the state budget are finally heating up, with a push to resolve the stalemate by early next week. The overdue budget means state workers won't get full paychecks Friday. It's an important time to be paying attention to these legislative developments, which could impact heavily on funding for Philadelphia schools, and to be communicating with local representatives.
Advocates for funding equity are alarmed that the newest budget proposal, which comes from Democrats in the House Appropriations Committee, chaired by State Rep. Dwight Evans, calls for a $118 million reduction in basic education funding compared to Gov. Rendell's proposed budget.
"The Pennsylvania School Funding Campaign today urged lawmakers to appropriate the full $418 million increase needed to keep the state on schedule to implement its new school funding formula within six years," said a campaign release issued Wednesday. Philadelphia and other historically underfunded districts are in line for large annual aid increases under the state's adequacy formula endorsed by the legislature last summer.
A significant shortfall in basic education funding relative to that formula would hit Philadelphia and other needy districts harder than most and would force a scaling back of planned initiatives in Superintendent Ackerman's Imagine 2014 plan
The House Democratic budget plan is by no means the stingiest of the proposals under consideration. In the face of a $3.2 billion deficit, Senate Republicans adopted a budget, Senate Bill 850, freezing basic education funding at current levels and using federal stimulus dollars to supplant and free up state funds. Gov. Rendell has called cuts in the Senate budget draconian and proposed a variety of tax increases to avoid such deep cuts. He has not won over the legislature to his proposal for a temporary 16% increase in the state income tax.
On a related front, a push by education advocates in Philadelphia and across the state is for Harrisburg to finally tackle the problem of inadequate funding for special education. House Bill 704 won bipartisan support in the House Education Committee, and there are hopes that these reforms will be adopted along with the state budget.