The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

Opinion

August 9, 2010

Boost state education aid

State lawmakers are expected to start whittling away this week on a $250 million school funding measure, placing added pressure on local taxpayers already footing a large portion of the education bill. In addition, any cuts are bound to place added pressure on the state's below-average public education spending, now pegged at 31st lowest in the nation for state tax dollars spent per pupil.

What got us into this mess?

High up on the list of culprits is Gov. Ed Rendell working magic on a state budget. Remember weeks ago when the state budget was being hammered out in Harrisburg with a July 1 deadline fast approaching. Out of left field came a rescue package that saved lawmakers and Rendell the embarrassment of yet another year without a balanced budget in place.

The state fix includes a $250 million bump in federal aid to schools. Today, the U.S. House is expected to approve a $26 billion extension of last year's federal aid to states. Of that amount, $600 million is earmarked for Pennsylvania. Trouble is Rendell plugged in $850 million to make his budget work.

Pennsylvania has been funding schools at a rate of less than 40 percent. Nationally, the average is near 50 percent. The result leaves the majority of funding for educating our students coming from local taxpayers.

While the state uses a formula that favors poorer districts, the actual dollars that flow to the state's 501 districts favor wealthier districts, according to Ron Cowell, president of the Harrisburg-based Education Policy and Leadership Center.

Cowell blames the state aid formula for creating a spending disparity that allows some wealthier districts to spend $10,000 more per pupil than poorer districts.

Meanwhile, education advocates are lining up their defenses knowing that lawmakers are pressured by a growing list of state groups and lobbyists competing for tax money.

Advocates for law enforcement and court officials agree that additional money spent on early childhood education, funds to put at-risk children on the right path resulting in less law enforcement and corrections costs, is money well spent.

Property taxpayers are reminded annually of the cost of educating our students. Legislators should resist the temptation to trim funding for early childhood education and, just as important, adopt legislation that will fund state education at the 50 percent level.

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