PA budget impasse hurts students

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

By Raymond Porreca


Seeing issues in black and white – or donkey red versus elephant blue – has led to a political stalemate that has bogged down Pennsylvania’s government for the better part of five months.

Since entering the new fiscal year on July 1, Pennsylvania has been operating without a budget plan in effect.

This situation stems from Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, and the majority Republican legislature failing to come to a budgetary agreement that is acceptable for both parties.

Much of the holdup stems from Wolf’s proposed Marcellus Shale tax increase in March.

Called the Pennsylvania Education Reinvestment Act, the motion would feature a 5 percent severance tax on gas drilling.

According to Wolf’s website, the act would raise “billions” over the coming years.

Wolf’s plan was met with a counter by Republican legislators, who returned a budget plan that called for $100 million in education funding.

In the months following, vetoes and stop-gap budgeting have become the norm as elected officials seek a compromise.

The current budget impasse is a perfect example of political head-butting.

At first glance, the budget stalemate sounds like the kind of story that you read about, brow furrowed, before going about your day.

The politicians involved, after all, are elected officials who have been voted into office for their ability to lead and pass legislation that benefits the state.

Unfortunately, with each passing day, the fate of some student’s education is in limbo because of bipartisan drama.

Because the budget stalemate has lingered well past its June 30 deadline, the current fiscal year – which began on July 1 – has been, for lack of a better term, halted before it could even begin.

And while this budget deadlock continues, students of all ages are beginning to suffer.

Organizations, such as the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA), have not been able to fully issue grant money that many college students rely on.

Without the PHEAA grant money, colleges are left footing the bill while hoping for the state budget to be passed, leading to a cycle of loaning and reimbursement that will only make all parties involved fall further behind as the fiscal year progresses.

College students aren’t the only ones who have been hampered by the state’s inability to pass a budget plan.

Many of the state’s public schools are being adversely affected as the fiscal year marches onward without a final plan in place

School districts have begun to feel the weight of the budgetary holdup, specifically in lower-income areas.

Without state funding, these school districts lose proper supplies and staff, which in turn results in poorer student success rates.

As the year progresses without any clear resolution to the budget stalemate, public schools have been forced to make do. Each day without state funding finds schools in multiple districts taking drastic measures to save money.

Some districts have resorted to taking out loans while others have asked their teachers to work through the year without updated contracts.

And the clock is running out.

According to a statement released by Gov. Tom Wolf ’s administration in October, all of the school districts in the state “have enough money, borrowed or otherwise, to stay open until November.”

November is here, so the time to move forward with the state budget is now.

While the budget stalemate is a state- specific issue, the idea of potentially

holding back education funds is indicative of a larger problem.

The Organization for Economic Co- operation and Development currently ranks the United States at 28th in global school rankings, pointing out that when it comes to education, our nation’s students would benefit from every additional dollar available.

Despite ongoing negotiations between both sides of the political spectrum, no official budget had been put in place.

On Nov. 10, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Wolf and Republican legislators had “reached a tentative agreement on key pieces” of the budget.

Among the compromises are a proposed increase in sales tax from 6 to 7.25 percent. This increase, despite being notably steep, will free up approximately $350 million for education funding, proponents say.

To date, the budget still has not been passed, but it is clear that the political sphere is sensing unease from citizens.

After months of waiting for some advancement, educators, officials and everyday residents are beginning to voice their concerns.

Perhaps that is the only way to ensure that the state’s budget – through whatever means – is finally passed.

When it comes to education and the threat of our school systems falling dangerously far behind, it shouldn’t matter what party you vote for.

No student deserves to be left behind. It’s time to put political biases and personal allegiances by the wayside.

Let your voice be heard by state representatives. Urge for steps to be made that not only quell the budget issues, but also ensure the safety of our state’s students.

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