Corbett budget slashes education spending

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Gov. Corbett’s budget proposal for 2011-12 presents very nearly a worse-case scenario to many education advocates.

An overview of the proposal describes plans to slash the state contribution for both K-12 and higher education and eliminate several Rendell-administration initiatives beyond the basic education subsidy, including accountability block grants and tutoring aid.

It also eliminates reimbursements to districts for charter school expenses.

Key points:

  • Basic education would be cut by $550 million, or 10 percent. This gives many local districts, especially poorer ones that rely heavily on state aid, the choice between cutting programs or raising local property taxes.
  • Corbett wants districts to get voter approval before raising property taxes beyond the rate of inflation.
  • He also wants them to impose a one-year salary freeze for all school district personnel, adding that he believes this alone could save districts $400 million.
  • They should also eliminate automatic raises for teachers who attain master’s degrees — a staple of most teacher contracts — which he said could save another $200 million. Both these changes would require the 501 school districts to reopen union negotiations.
  • The budget provides funding for the development of a model "merit pay" plan for teachers that would pay teachers in part based on student outcomes, and for the development of a new "multi-measure teacher and principal evaluation systems" that measure effectiveness.
  • It increases from $50 million to $75 million in the Educational Improvement Tax Credit, in which corporations, in lieu of paying taxes, donate to a scholarship fund that supports tuition in private schools. He would also provide money directly for publicly-funded vouchers to support private-school attendance.
  • The budget halves the funding for the state system of higher education and for the four "state-related" universities including Temple and Lincoln. These cuts amount to $650 million.

In one sense, it could have been worse: Corbett could have cut the basic education subsidy to equal the amount of the state share — without the federal stimulus — this year. For 2010-11, the state share of the basic education subsidy is $4.7 billion, supplemented by another billion in federal stimulus, for a total of $5.7 billion. Corbett is proposing $5.2 billion for basic education, all funded by the state — which in effect is a nearly half-billion increase in the state contribution to this line item over this year.

Some reactions:

Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers:

“The state budget proposed today will reverse eight years of academic progress in Philadelphia by slashing funding to vital programs created to put our students on equal footing with well-funded, high-achieving school districts.

“Budget cuts of this magnitude will mean increasing class sizes; will force reductions in employees hired to keep students safe and help students and families in crisis; and eliminate programs like honors and advanced placement classes, music, art, school libraries, counselors, vocational and career training and after-school programs that already are in short supply in urban schools.

“The only way to maintain vital services to children, this budget suggests, is for dedicated, hard-working teachers and staff to pay for these programs out of their own pockets through pay freezes, work furloughs and pension cuts and benefit reductions.

“Instead of investing in students by fully funding public education using the Costing-Out study’s recommendations, this budget slashes funding to the poorest students and, in the long run, will undermine our efforts to raise the educational achievement of Philadelphia residents.”

Ron Cowell of the Education Policy and Leadership Center and the Pennsylvania School Funding Campaign:

“The General Assembly took historic action beginning in 2008 to put the state back on track toward a fair, equitable, and rational school funding system for the first time in two decades.Today’s proposal is a distressing step backward, one that will dramatically weaken our children’s education.”

Shelly Yanoff, executive director of Public Citizens for Children and Youth:

"The kids who need a decent education, the businesses that need a ready workforce, the communities that need a well developed and responsible citizenry, and the Commonwealth that needs it all, stand to lose by a proposed budget that cuts education funding by over a billion dollars! We have got to do better than that."

Michael Churchill of the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia:

"This budget is devastating for children and unnecessary. It cuts over a billion dollars from the money going to school districts to pay for teachers, books, and the supports children need to learn. Increased class size and less learning is inevitable in many districts.

"The only reason cuts this large are being proposed is because the Governor is unwilling to close corporate tax loopholes or to tax gas extraction and certain tobacco products. It is a sad day for the Commonwealth when children’s education and the future productivity of the state is sacrificed for short term business profits."

Susan Gobreski of Education Voters PA:

"This is laying to waste a whole generation of kids, and thus a generation’s economic prosperity. there is money on the table: we could tax natural gas drilling, just like every other state; we could tax smokeless tobacco just like every other state; we could close the Delaware loophole and get the revenue we need to invest in the future. Belt tightening is one thing, but this is like deciding to live without electricity in the name of trimming your household budget and calling it responsible."