Friday, April 29, 2016
Friday at the PARSS Conference
Thursday, April 28, 2016
Tuesday, April 19, 2016
Funding/ Supreme Court????
Look who supports the school funding lawsuit & learn how you can support it, too!
The PA Supreme Court will hear argument for the school funding lawsuit this year, perhaps as early as in May.
Throughout Pennsylvania, our schools have not received adequate and equitable funding to meet our children’s educational needs. But our Constitution says, “The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of the Commonwealth.”
The state government is breaking its own law and our kids are suffering.
Public education advocates have a very important role to play in demanding action and then holding state lawmakers accountable for ensuring that all schools receive adequate and equitable funding to meet our children’s educational needs.
We MUST raise awareness of the school funding problem in our communities and demand action from every branch of government. Write a letter to the editor, ask your school board or community organization to pass a resolution in support of the lawsuit and/or call your lawmaker to say that it is time for Harrisburg to meet its Constitutional obligation to Pennsylvania’s children.
What You Can Do
- Learn more by reading the Updated 2-26-16 Lawsuit FAQs from ELC and PILCOP
• Write a letter to the editor of your local newspapers. Visit our Updated Write a Letter to the Editor to Support the Lawsuit for talking points and a link that will allow you to email your letter to your local newspapers.
• Attend to a school board meeting in your community and ask your school board to pass a resolution in support of the lawsuit. Download our Sample Resolution in Support of PA School Funding Lawsuit and our Frequently Asked Questions about Passing a Resolution in Support of the School Funding Lawsuit for more information.
Read why organizations and school boards are supporting plaintiffs in the school funding lawsuit
The bipartisan Basic Education Funding Commission did great work putting together a funding formula. But without significant sustained additional state investment, kids who are in kindergarten now will graduate before there is adequate funding in our high poverty districts. The mission of public education is to create informed American citizens; our students are our future employees, coworkers and taxpayers. Our concern and responsibility for kids must not end at our township’s borders. That’s why I encouraged our school board, in a well-funded district, to pass a resolution in support of the lawsuit. Lawrence Feinberg, Haverford Township School Board member.
As an organization that fights for equality and justice, the ACLU of Pennsylvania supports efforts to make sure that every Pennsylvania student, rich or poor, has an equal shot at a quality education. The current funding system is fundamentally unfair and puts already disadvantaged students even further behind their wealthier peers. Our constitution demands better for Pennsylvania’s children.” Reggie Shuford, Executive Director, ACLU of Pennsylvania.
The failure of Harrisburg to act appropriately to ensure that all Pennsylvania students receive an adequately funded education has created a system where the quality of education that a student receives is dependent upon her zip code. This is unacceptable. The League of Women Voters of PA commends the plaintiffs for their courage in fighting to hold Harrisburg accountable and re-enforce the constitutional right of every child to receive an education that will allow them to become productive members of society. Suzanne Almeida, Executive Director of the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania
These resolutions of support from school districts across the state highlight the stark fact that public education affects us all. Like our clients, these districts are of all shapes and sizes, from all corners of the state. Now it is time for this case to be heard, so that the public will have clearly laid before them the facts we all know to be true: Pennsylvania’s system of funding education has been broken for generations, and if we are to prosper as a Commonwealth, it must be fixed. Jennifer Clarke, Executive Director of the Public Interest Law Center
We are pleased that so many school districts and organizations across the state are joining with us to ask the courts to take action on this important issue. In response to the Legislature’s continuing failure to adequately and equitably fund our schools, only the courts can ensure our students receive the educational opportunities to which they are constitutionally entitled. We are asking the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to recognize this duty and give parents, students, and school districts their day in court. Deborah Gordon Klehr, Executive Director of the Education Law Center
Thursday, April 7, 2016
Oh where oh where does the money go
Wolf angers GOP with funding formula that gives smaller hikes to most school districts
HARRISBURG — Most Lehigh Valley school districts would get less of a financial boost from the state under a formula developed by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf than they would under a method championed by a bipartisan coalition spearheaded by the Legislature.
With the start of next fiscal year less than 21/2 months away, Wolf's plan is drawing heat from Republican lawmakers who accuse him of playing politics with students by forgoing the bipartisan formula he previously praised.
On Tuesday, Wolf announced he will use his own mathematical formula to distribute the extra $208 million in education money to districts hardest hit by 2010-11 budget cuts.
It's not right to start a new funding method without first restoring $370 million in cuts districts endured five years ago, Wolf said.
"Since Day One, I have been fighting for historic investments in education at all levels," Wolf said in a statement. "The new fair funding formula, which I support, cannot truly be fair unless the cuts are fully restored."
Republicanscried foul and threatened lawsuits. They claimed Wolf's plan would drive too much of the new money to Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, while the state's 498 other districts would get less than they would have under the bipartisan formula and because the budget proclaims none of the new money can be "expended until enabling legislation … is enacted."
"Today's announcement by Gov. Wolf that he will be distributing 2015-16 basic education funding without a legislative formula is a blatant attempt to disregard the General Assembly," said Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson.
No district would get less money in the remainder of 2015-16 than it got in 2014-15. The fight is over how high a percentage increase districts would get for per-pupil expenditures and the Ready to Learn block grant.
In the Lehigh Valley, the Bethlehem Area School District would be the only district to benefit from Wolf's formula, receiving an additional $370,483 — 1 percent — for a total of $31 million, according to House GOP and Department of Education records.
A dozen area districts, including Parkland and Whitehall-Coplay, would see increases 1 percent to 5 percent less than what the bipartisan plan calls for.
Allentown's funding increase would be 2 percent less than under the bipartisan plan. But it had received extra state money to weather the recession — funding that remains part of its overall allotment.
Four districts would statistically break even.
Still, the back-and-forth rhetoric is shaping up to become a classic constitutional fight between the legislative branch's right to approve, with conditions, how taxpayer money is spent and the executive branch's right to manage the flow of that money.
"It's far too simplistic for the Legislature to say exactly how each cent can be used and all the executive does is write the check," said Muhlenberg College political science professor and pollster Chris Borick. "It's always a question, and often a constitutional question, of how much discretion does a governor have in allocating and courts have been asked to intervene. And in this case, that's exactly how we are heading."
In the 2014 election, Wolf defeated incumbent Republican Gov. Tom Corbettwho never was able to live down voter anger over the education cuts he and the Legislature imposed when temporary federal stimulus money vanished in 2010-11. Wolf vowed to restore those cuts and fix the state deficit, which meant various tax increases he never spoke about on the campaign trail with the exception of a severance tax on natural gas drillers.
The Legislature fought those tax plans when Wolf unveiled them last year. Republican lawmakers — with little to no Democratic support — then passed a series of policy and spending plans Wolf later vetoed, causing some state education money to be withheld from school districts for nine months.
During that stalemate, the Legislature accepted a report outlining a new funding formula that sought to take politics out of how money is distributed to public schools.
The formula would send state tax dollars to local districts based on annual weighted measures that rely on U.S. Census records and data from the state Revenue and Education departments, among others. That formula gave more money to poorer districts and less to wealthier ones.
Wolf wanted the new funding formula to start in the 2016-17 fiscal year. Republicans inserted language in the fiscal code — a separate budget document that dictates how money is spent — that the extra education money would be distributed using the new formula in 2015-16.
Wolf vetoed the fiscal code in March, killing the formula. The final budget document Wolf allowed to become law in March did not include a specific language concerning the formula. But the budget did say the extra money could not be spent without the "enabling" fiscal code in place.
Without a full fiscal code in law, Wolf is allowed to spend the education money as he sees fit as long as he does not go over the allocated amounts in the budget, said the governor's spokesman, Jeff Sheridan.
"We adopted the formula approved by the bipartisan Basic Education Funding Commission in order to bring more equity into how this money would be shared," said Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre. "At the time, the governor praised the commission, its findings and its formula — only then to turn around and ignore it."
The 2016-17 fiscal year begins July 1.
Tuesday, April 5, 2016
Say it ain't so.....
Gov. Tom Wolf allowed the remaining portion of the state Legislature’s 2015-16 budget to become law March 23, without his signature. The governor vetoed the accompanying fiscal code, because it “contains unconstitutional provisions, guts important environmental regulations and tries to establish legislative authority over issues that fall under executive jurisdiction,” according to a press release from Wolf's spokesman, Jeff Sheridan.
Pennsylvania’s budget impasse has come to an end. A $30 billion spending plan is in place. So we can stop talking about it, right?
We’re afraid not.
The fiscal battle may be finished, but the war between Gov. Tom Wolf and the Republican-controlled Legislature may have just begun.
By choosing to let it become law without his signature, Wolf washed his hands of the budget, which he described as unbalanced. The murky conclusion was a microcosm of a messy nine-month tug of war.
Somebody needed to compromise. In the end, it was the governor — kind of. The exception: his decision to veto the fiscal code.
The fiscal code is legislation that accompanies the appropriations bill (the budget) that indicates how portions of the budget will be distributed, including among K-12 schools. Call it a 101-page instructions packet.
Without the fiscal code — the instructions — those dollars cannot be legally appropriated, because there is no signed agreement on how new funds can be spent.
The Republican view
The money tied up in the fiscal code includes $150 million in education funding, dispersed through the school funding formula established by the bipartisan Basic Education Funding Commission. Those funds, instead, are essentially frozen; and the formula, which we have supported, remains in limbo.
Consequently, there will be no increase in school funding from last year, and districts remain in the dark as to how much they will receive.
“Once again, (Wolf) is manufacturing a crisis,” said state Sen. Lloyd Smucker, a Republican serving Lancaster and a member of the Basic Education Funding Commission. “There was absolutely no need to (veto fiscal code). It accomplished no goals.”
Wolf’s decision has also barred schools from receiving aid for construction projects through PlanCon, or the Planning and Construction Workbook, which enables schools to apply for reimbursement when undertaking major construction projects.
Smucker believes the budget was a fair spending plan that forced the government to “live within its means,” instead of raising taxes and budgeting for more money than what’s expected. He called Wolf’s unorthodox approach to signing off on the budget “a bizarre position to take.”
The Democratic view
Democrats in Harrisburg are focused on rebounding from the drastic cuts to education made under Gov. Tom Corbett in 2010-11. During Corbett’s administration, $1 billion in school funding was cut — a figure often disputed by Republicans — with poorer districts more reliant on government support getting hit the hardest, according to Gov. Wolf’s spokesman, Jeff Sheridan. Wolf’s mission for this year was to restore this funding gap, and to implement the school funding formula once equitable funding was restored in 2016-17.
Instead, the GOP “tried to shove it down our throats,” Sheridan said. He called Republicans’ efforts to support schools “disingenuous.”
State Rep. Mike Sturla, a Lancaster Democrat and Basic Education Funding Commission member, shares the governor’s frustration, saying that, in some cases, wealthy school districts got cut less than $1,000 per classroom, while poorer districts got cut more than $25,000 per classroom. He said vetoing the fiscal code was necessary, because implementing the school formula now would “only dig the hole deeper.” Sturla said his goal would not be to take money away from wealthier districts, but to provide all districts adequate funding.
In Wolf’s $33.3 billion budget proposal for 2016-17, he calls for a $200 million increase in school funding. Revenue increases would mean additional taxes on personal income, cigarettes and natural gas, plus new taxes on cable television and moviegoers.
We believe schools need to be funded fully and fairly, and that homeowners need some relief from the pressure of ever-higher property taxes that are imposed because the state keeps shifting the school funding burden to the school districts.
Coming up with a balanced budget that accomplishes all of that — and allows for the implementation of the Basic Education Commission’s school funding formula — must be the goal of everyone in the months ahead.
So this time around, we hope the governor and the Legislature somehow can manage to give us both a full, balanced budget, complete with fiscal code.
And that it doesn’t take nine months of a nightmarish game of political chess to make it happen.