Tuesday, September 22, 2015

PA: Schools Are Starving

In Pennsylvania, we're on the downhill slide toward October, and still the capital suits in Harrisburg can't get their jobs done. The state budget is long overdue, and schools are starting to feel the money crunch.

Pennsylvania budget impasses are such a regular event that they get their own Wikipedia page. This year's giant legislative screw-up means we've had five late budgets out of the last nine. And this year's has shown no signs of solution, as new governor Tom Wolfe does head to head with a GOP-controlled legislature. There are a variety of issues out there from privatizing liquor stores to fixing the pension mess to neener neener you're not the boss of me.

But while Harrisburg fiddles, the schools of Pennsylvania are doing a slow burn. Chester Uplands made headlines for not making their payroll, but they were just the leading edge of a wave of school based disasters.

In Philadelphia, the schools have stopped hiring because they're having a capital-induced cash flow problem. Consequently, we get this story of a school with over seventy students in a class.

In Erie, the district is literally living paycheck to paycheck, with the teachers union saying they'll go short-term without pay and the district talking about shutting down until they get money again.

Meanwhile, in my own neck of the woods, my district has joined the many districts looking at setting up a line of credit, but holding off as long as possible because that will cost our taxpayers real money. And our neighboring district's board was last night absorbing the news of a rating downgrade because of the state's financial logjam.

Harrisburg can make noises about holding out on budget issues in order to represent the interests of the taxpayers, but their inaction is, at this point, costing the taxpayers money, both directly in the costs of borrowing operating funds, and indirectly in higher interests rates because of rating downgrades.

And this is on top of Pennsylvania's massive mistakes with the pension fund and a senseless, money-sucking funding formula for charters (though many districts have decided to stop paying cyber school bills until they have money to do so). Plus, given PA's famously unequal funding formula, poor districts are getting squeezed far worse than wealthy ones.

The current noises out of Harrisburg are not encouraging, though there is talk of some sort of stopgap measure to slap a bandaid on the bullet holes that the legislature has shot in local school finances, and while the temporary relief is appealing, I worry that such a move will only prolong the legislative shenanigans. I'm partial to making all legislators go without paychecks and administrative budgets until they get things fixed, but that would take an act of the legislature, so it's a non-starter. But keep watching-- we may eventually show the whole nation what happens when a state stops funding its schools entirely. 


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