The Pennsylvania budget impasse, lack of education costs us

Category:  Opinions
Wednesday, November 18th, 2015 at 11:38 PM

In my classes, when I have a paper due on Sept. 30, it is due Sept. 30. If I fail to complete my assignment, then I will receive a 0 on my paper. Depending on the weighting of the grades, this could lead me to fail the class.

However, when Pennsylvania legislators have to pass the state budget by June 30, this due date is apparently extremely flexible. Pennsylvania has gone nearly four and a half months without a budget. This means that everything that receives funding from the state: school districts, college students who are receiving funding from the state, social service agencies, and plenty of other places are without funding right now. School districts especially have been hit hard by the budget impasse.

Right now, the Erie School District (ESD) is working without 60 percent of the tax dollars normally allocated to it. Since the middle of September, the ESD has proposed numerous ideas in a worse-case scenario for the district. These include shutting the 18 schools in the district down and making up the lost days during holiday breaks, having teachers work without pay and reimbursing the teachers for the lost pay once a budget is passed, or taking out a line of credit from the state.

The district has a $30 million line of credit it would be able to use in the event the budget impasse lasts until the end of the year. However, Superintendent Jay Badams is reluctant to use this as the loan would incur $200,000 in interest and approximately $50,000 in fees. In July, the district took a $12 million bridge loan. By the end of September, the state owed the ESD around $17 million dollars in funds.

In early October, Badams contributed a letter to The Erie Times- News discussing how he, as a taxpayer, is sick and tired of the budget impasse. Badams added that the ESD spends less per pupil than 80 percent of districts in Pennsylvania. Typically, the district receives 70 percent of its funds from state and federal taxes and 30 percent from local property taxes.

Many Erie taxpayers have wrongly accused Badams of not properly using their property taxes, but this is not the case. In fact, Badams has yet to see most of the money this year from local taxes, which is the entire problem with the budget impasse.

On Oct. 3, around 2,000 people gathered into Veterans Stadium in Erie and rallied for equal funding for all school districts in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Yes, the fact that the ESD has not received any of its normal funds was a large topic of discussion, but the larger topic was how the district ranks last in the state between funding of the wealthiest and poorest districts in Pennsylvania.

State Senator Sean Wiley, Representative Flo Fabrizio, and Representative Patrick Harkins were in attendance at the rally, sharing the crowd’s anger and frustration with the state legislators. Badams ended his 15 minute speech with, “We need to look at the structure and operation of our budget process and make the changes that are necessary...please fix the budget process! Do not use our kids as leverage!”

On Oct. 12, the ESD cut off funding to the charter schools in Erie. The district stopped making payments to the charter schools in July. One charter school in Erie receives payments of $360,000 a month from the ESD. This greatly digs into the district’s budget.

In mid-October, Badams filed a request to the State Department of Treasury to take out a loan for $47 million. However, the treasury denied this request. The ESD is operating on $17 million from local taxes that will last until mid-November. After that, Badams will have to strongly consider taking out a $30 million loan or shutting down schools. Badams says even if the state budget is passed in November, districts might not even receive their funds for another two months.

The main reason there is a budget impasse is because Governor TomWolf’swantsareverydifferentfromthewantsoftheRepublican legislators. Governor Wolf wants to budget for $500 million extra dollars in the K-12 education and he supports reimbursing districts for interest on loans. However, many Republicans do not support this increased cost for education. Governor Wolf stated in an article in Philadelphia Magazine that he has been trying to compromise with the Republican legislators by introducing his pension form proposal and partial privatization of state liquor stores.

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports that Pennsylvania has spent $27 billion during the impasse. This $27 billion covered the cost of state salaries, welfare recipients, and Medicaid, among other necessary costs. Republican spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher claims that it costs approximately $7,000 for Senate to be in session for a day.

So far, school districts across Pennsylvania have borrowed more than $500 million in order to keep their districts running. Although schools cannot receive their due funding from the state, the state legislators still have found ways to receive their salaries. 

According to the Pennsylvania State Government website, the average salary of the 49 state senators listed on the site is $92,458. The average starting salary of a teacher in Pennsylvania is $41,901 and the overall average salary of teachers in the state is $62,992.

That makes the difference between the average salaries of state senators and overall teachers $29,466. What I am failing to understand is why are the legislators still getting paid for not reaching an agreement, but teachers might have to work through their holiday breaks or work for free?

According to the Pennsylvania legislative website, the Senate will not reconvene until Nov. 16. The legislators are teaching students that deadlines are merely suggestions, and that their education and well-being does not matter. If you were lucky enough to receive an education, this should infuriate you. If you want to make a difference, please urge the state legislators to pass a budget soon. Contact your representatives, and make a difference. 

Dakota Palmer is a Staff Writer for The Spectator. 

Tags: education

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