Governors all across the country have chosen to cut back on K-12 education in response to budgets battered by the Great Recession. But not many went as far as Gov. Tom Corbett (R-PA), who not only proposed $1 billion in education cuts, but concentrated his cuts in low-income districts that can least afford it. According to the Education Law Center, Corbett’s proposed cuts in poorer districts are 10 times as deep as those in wealthier districts.
The Pennsylvania state House didn’t go along with Corbett’s plan, passing a budget that included $240 million more for schools than Corbett requested. However, that budget still contains funding inequities, which the Republican-held state Senate is looking at correcting:
Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware, agreed that some poorer school districts still face disproportionate reductions and said Republican senators will press for more money for them when they meet in the coming days in closed-door talks with their fellow Republicans in the House and governor’s office. “That will be an element of discussion that we have with the House and the governor,” Pileggi said. Pileggi would not say how much more money Senate Republicans will seek.
Pennsylvania’s Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley (R) has called the budget cuts the Corbett administration proposed the “adult thing to do.” “There are no easy answers. Budget cuts never seem to get a round of applause,” he said. In response to Corbett’s proposed cuts, 68 percent of Pennsylvania school districts are considering layoffs while 31 percent are considering eliminating full day kindergarten.
But as I’ve noted before, Pennsylvania doesn’t have to go down this road. Corbett could raise enough revenue to render his entire education reduction unnecessary just by ending a series of special interest tax breaks that Pennsylvania has allowed to fester. Taxing the gas “fracking” industry, for instance, could raise $400 million annually. Pennsylvania is the only state in the nation’s top 15 gas producers that doesn’t levy a tax on this environmentally destructive industry. State Sen. Joe Scarnati (R) has proposed levying a tax on fracking, but would earmark the money for purposes other than education.