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On the Hill - March 9, 2012
Let the shell games continue...
PDE Secretary Ron Tomalis testified before both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees over the past two weeks, and the Corbett Administration continues to use "shell game" tactics to mask cuts in funding for public schools.
As PSEA President Mike Crossey noted in his press statements following the budget hearings, "It is time to stop ignoring the problem and start fixing it… How can you say that the state increased funding for Pennsylvania's students when school districts are being forced to eliminate programs left and right? It just doesn't add up." The governor's office is calling $319 million in mandated pension contributions an increase in funding for our students. But the pension payment is constitutionally and legally required and pays off the debt of the system created by bad legislative policies of a decade ago, coupled with losses in the market. This is not money for our students or classroom learning.
Many legislators did an excellent job of highlighting what is really happening across Pennsylvania, calling out the Administration for its decisions to not invest in our students, our public schools, and our communities. Many legislators raised concern with the proposed elimination of $100 million for Accountability Block Grants in the governor's budget proposal.
There were a number of questions asked of the Secretary about the governor's proposed bundling of the basic education, social security, and transportation line-items and the negative impacts the governor's proposal could have on funding for schools into the future. PSEA will continue to lobby against additional cuts in funding to our schools as well as the enactment of any legislation that only further exacerbates the impact of the cuts.
Financially Distressed School Districts
On Monday, PSEA will release a white paper, "Sounding the Alarm," which outlines factors that likely cause financial distress in our districts. The paper includes our recommendations for how to address this crisis for the long term.
Addressing the needs of the increasing number of school districts facing financial distress will likely pervade much of the Legislature's education discussions over the next few months. Sen. Piccola soon will introduce legislation that will identify districts in need of "financial recovery" and initiate interventions for those districts. PSEA will actively monitor this legislation to protect the interests of our members while working with policymakers and other stakeholders to continue to find a sustainable solution to the crisis facing many of our districts.
In addition, as noted in the last On The Hill, PSEA continues to support Priority Assistance Grants for Education (PAGE) - legislation that would provide limited funds to 18 academically and financially distressed school districts for proven, effective programs such as those found in PSEA's Solutions that Work (www.solutionsthatworkpa.org).
There is agreement that fiscal distress exists in some of our school districts. Stakeholders now must agree on solutions and work together to address the crisis.
Special Education bill gets initial Committee consideration
Legislation sponsored by state Sen. Pat Browne (R-Lehigh) – Senate Bill 1115 – was amended and voted out of the Senate Education Committee earlier this week. While PSEA has long supported the need to revise the current funding structure for special education services and appreciates the efforts of Sen. Browne to move the conversation forward, we have concerns with portions of the bill that prevent us from supporting it at this time. PSEA staff has a commitment, however, from Sen. Browne and others to address our concerns as the bill moves through the process. Read PSEA's position statement shared with the committee earlier this week.
Updating Pennsylvania's Right-to-Know Law
The Senate State Government Committee had a hearing on Tuesday of this week regarding Senate Bill 247, legislation seeking to make omnibus revisions and updates to the Right-to-Know (RTK) law enacted in 2008. Sen. Pileggi, the prime sponsor of SB 247, sponsored the original RTK law and continues to have a strong interest in the issue of making government documents and records available to the public. The current RTK law does not explicitly state that the home address of a school employee is exempt from the bill. PSEA fought for this protection in the courts, and currently those records are protected through the courts. However, it is an important clarification PSEA will continue to seek in any omnibus change that is made to the RTK law - whether it be in Senate Bill 247 or other legislation. The State Government Committee anticipates working on this legislation through the summer with a vote in the fall.
Look for additional updates on this issue in future On the Hill editions as the legislative session progresses.