Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Senate sends amended budget bill back to House

The Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA) reports that Governor Rendell's proposed education budget is still very much up for debate in Harrisburg. The following report is provided by and re-printed with permission from the PSBA:

Senate amends budget bill and returns to House;
Tell your representative to vote "No" on HB 1416

The state budget impasse continues as the Republican-controlled Senate tossed the latest volley back to the House for the next move. Last night, following a long and heated debate, the Senate voted 31-19 to amend HB 1416, the House budget bill, with language similar to that under SB 850. HB 1416 is now back in the House for a concurrence vote. PSBA is urging school officials to contact their House members immediately to ask them to vote no on the Senate-passed version of HB 1416.

In its current form, HB 1416 now includes a major cut in state funding for basic education, just as Senate Bill 850 did, and uses available federal stimulus funds to replace the cut in state funds rather than to increase basic education funding consistent with the 6-year plan for school funding reform. PSBA is still reviewing the language, but it also appears that the section of the bill that appropriates dollars for state assessment does not contain the language of the House Republican amendment limiting the use of those dollars on the PSSA.

The Senate move is the latest action in the widening budget crisis. Late last week, the House of Representatives passed HB 1416, which contained a $29.1 billion budget plan drafted by the Democrats. Prior to final passage of HB 1416, the House with a vote of 93-103 defeated a Republican-backed amendment that would have replaced the Democratic proposal with language similar to the budget bill introduced by Senate Republicans earlier this year under SB 850. The amendment to HB 1416, which was offered by Republican Appropriations Chairman Mario Civera, was a $27.27 billion proposal with no tax increases. Although there are major differences in the two budget plans, it has been suggested that there may not be enough support among Democrats for a personal income tax increase. With the issue of a tax increase off the table, other options would have to be considered to raise revenue.

At the center of the debate is funding for K-12 education and how to spend over $2 billion in stimulus money that has been earmarked for that purpose. Under SB 850, the basic education subsidy line item would be reduced to 2006-07 levels and approximately $800 million of stimulus money would be used to bring that amount up to 2008-09 funding levels. The remaining stimulus dollars would be used for other budgetary purposes. SB 850 does include the increases in Title I, Title II-D and IDEA that the stimulus bill provides. These dollars represent the bulk of the "new" dollars appropriated by SB 850; however, the bill adds no new state dollars to the basic education subsidy line item.

The governor's proposal, like SB 850, appropriates the Title I, Title II-D and IDEA funds from the stimulus packages and also uses approximately $1 billion to make substantial increases to the basic education subsidy line item for 2009-10 and 2010-11 and to create State Fiscal Stabilization Fund Grants for distribution in 2009-10.

The governor's proposed additions to the basic education line subsidy and the SFSF grants are important not only because they represent additional funding, but because they represent funding that can be used on in a variety of ways, including operational costs, building renovations and other programs that are permissible under the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act, IDEA, Perkins Vocational Technical Education Act and other important federal laws. The dollars for Title I, Title II-D and IDEA must be used for those programs for eligible students. Therefore, the extra funding provided by the increases in basic education subsidy and the SFSF grants in the governor's proposal are needed because, without them, districts will receive no increase in operational funding from the state in 2009-10.

PSBA's position
PSBA, both on its own, and as a member of the Pennsylvania School Funding Campaign, has thrown its support behind the governor's proposal for a number of reasons. First, it represents a continuation of the six-year funding plan introduced last year, which would help close the spending gaps identified by the 2007 costing out study. Any deviation from that plan will likely not be made up in future years as a new governor is elected in the fall of 2010.

Second, the governor's plan is much more likely to help Pennsylvania get a share of the $5 billion in "Race to the Top" funds, the second wave of federal stimulus money that will be made available to states in the fall. These dollars will be used for competitive grants for districts in specialized areas.

Third, the governor's proposal represents an increase in the state's share of funding public education and would have the effect of mitigating large cuts in programs for the 2010-11 fiscal year. Level funding the basic education subsidy will likely mean that districts will face cuts in their own programs.

Interested Neshaminy residents should contact State Representative Frank Farry for further details. Mr. Farry’s local office number is (215) 752-6750. His office is located at 340 East Maple Ave, Suite 307 in Langhorne.

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