Public schools, taxpayers on short end of PA’s budget mess

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by Peter Greene

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Pennsylvania’s long nightmare is over. Well, at least we’ve moved from nightmare to fitful sleep. After about 270 days of going without a budget, we have one, sort of.

Governor Tom Wolf agreed to pretend that the steaming heap of budget on his desk wasn’t really there at all, and after the appropriate period of being ignored, it will become the law. Who are the losers at the end of this giant mess?

Tom Wolf. The governor got about $200 million in increased funding for schools—not nearly what he wanted, and far less than the “compromise” budget the GOP backed out of a few months ago. But his refusal to either sign or veto the budget ends up looking a lot like pouting in the corner.

Local taxpayers. The GOP has sold their stubbornness by insisting that they won’t raise taxes, no matter what. So Pennsylvania’s chronically underfunded schools will do what they’ve always done—make up the shortfall in state funding by raising the cost to local taxpayers. The GOP hasn’t so much kept anyone from raising taxes—they’ve just stuck someone else with the job.

The GOP. The Pennsylvania Republicans couldn’t even find someone who could speak for their own party in negotiations. They ended up passing a barely-changed version of the same budget over and over again, which is not so much negotiating as “hammering your head against a brick wall.”

Schools. It will take quite a while to figure out just how much all this political incompetence has actually cost local school districts. But it was a lot—and it remains to be seen which schools will not recover.

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PA educator, blogger, writer Peter Greene

The future. Neither the governor nor the legislature learned anything in the last nine months, which means there’s no reason to think that the current budget talks for next year will go any better at all.

Pennsylvania has many obstacles for public education, some of which took a while to build. Democrats like to throw around the $1 billion dollar drop in education spending, but that was started by Democrat Ed Rendell, who used stimulus money to replace regular ed budget money (just as he was not supposed to). When the stimulus money stopped—voila! Instant hole in the ed budget. Then Tom Corbett decided that the solution was to dig even deeper.

Likewise, the huge underfunded mess of PA’s pension fund is an edifice of bipartisan boobery. And both parties have been steadfast in their refusal to put an end to Pennsylvania’s booming cyber-charter industry, which is costing a ton of money and producing results that are, by all measures, disastrously bad.

And that’s before you get to novel features like our gerrymandering, so bad that somehow GOP voters are the minority in the state, but the GOP controls the House and Senate.

There are no heroes in Harrisburg. They created an ugly, destructive mess, learned nothing from it, and seem poised to create yet another one. It takes about 270 days to bring a human fetus to term, but the baby birthed in our capital is one ugly child, and its unattractive parents seem poised to give it a sibling that will be just as awful.

Peter Greene is a 36-year veteran classroom teacher, former local union leader, and regular blogger at Curmudgucation. He is also a Progressive Education Fellow, an avid reader, and a trombonist in a 159-year-old town band. He lives in Northwest Pennsylvania with his wife and their chocolate lab. You can follow Peter’s blog on Facebook and Twitter.

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