Rendell Urges Adequate State Education Funding to Avoid Drastic Property Tax Hikes

LANCASTER – Pennsylvania’s next state budget must adequately invest in education in order to avoid drastic local property tax increases, Gov. Edward G. Rendell said during a visit to a Fulton Elementary School in Lancaster.

The Governor cautioned that a budget plan offered and approved by Senate Republicans would force school districts to hike property taxes and cut programs, ultimately putting Pennsylvania $1.2 billion behind the goals established in law last year as part of a six-year school funding formula.

“A failure to invest at the state level simply shifts the tax burden to the local level,” said Rendell. “It would also eliminate the extraordinary progress that our schools have made in increasing student achievement.”

The Lancaster City School District, the Governor noted, would lose more than $6 million in state education funding under the Senate’s plan. The district already is considering a 3.5 percent increase in property taxes. If the Senate Republican budget became law, the district would instead have to increase property taxes by 5.8 percent – the maximum allowed under Act 1 – and make dramatic cuts to pre-kindergarten, increase class sizes, and eliminate reading programs.

The Governor said the Senate spending plan creates a hole by using $728 million in federal stimulus funding to replace existing state basic education subsidy dollars.

“The Senate plan uses a budgeting gimmick that will put school districts at considerable risk when federal recovery funds expire,” said the Governor. “As a result, their plan creates a massive cliff – and it fails to deliver any solutions to the funding crisis it creates.”

Rendell’s proposed 2009-10 budget recognizes that education is, at its core, an economic development tool. The Governor’s plan contains difficult cuts that will ensure a balanced budget overall, while continuing the state’s record investments in education as part of a long-term economic recovery strategy.

Rendell’s education budget:

• Properly invests federal recovery funds to avoid property tax hikes and teacher layoffs and to accelerate our gains in student achievement.
• Fulfills Pennsylvania’s commitment to year two of a landmark school funding formula meant to ensure all schools have the resources needed for student success.
• Builds on Pennsylvania’s momentum in several programs proven to increase student learning, including early childhood education, high school reform and increased instructional time.

The Governor’s proposal is a stark contrast to the education spending plan offered by the Senate, which threatens to halt the commonwealth’s academic progress and result in higher property taxes and cuts in school programs and staff. The detrimental impacts of Senate Bill 850 would include:

• Elimination of the $418 million proposed basic education funding increase that would enable districts to avoid property tax increases while helping to reach the adequate resource levels identified in the General Assembly’s Costing-Out Report.
• Elimination of $317 million in federal stimulus funds that were intended by the president and Congress as one-time grants to enable school districts to invest in educational improvement strategies and school modernization.
• Creation of a $728 million hole in the state’s basic education subsidy that will result in tax increases and program cuts, and put Pennsylvania $1.2 billion behind in its school funding goals.
• The removal of an additional $336 million from the Governor’s proposed 2009-10 pre-K-12 budget, including major cuts to charter school reimbursement, pre-kindergarten, Head Start and high school reform, and the total elimination of programs proven to be successful such as Classrooms for the Future, Dual Enrollment and Science: It’s Elementary.

“We face an extraordinarily difficult budget situation as a result of the national recession, and we need to work in a bipartisan way to reach a solution,” Rendell said. “But let me be clear: balancing this budget on the backs of homeowners and students is no solution at all.”

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