Pa. teachers union calls for funding from taxes, drilling

Education budget proposal criticized

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HARRISBURG -- The state's largest teachers union is calling for lawmakers to increase funding for public schools and pay for it through heightened fees for drilling and new taxes.

In a report titled "Sounding the Alarm," the Pennsylvania State Education Association says that years of inadequate and inequitable state funding, coupled with the recent recession, have put Pennsylvania schools at risk of financial distress. After a year in which school districts have increased class sizes and cut jobs, the union says in a report to be released today, the budget proposed by Gov. Tom Corbett would require districts to raise taxes or cut more programs and positions.

The PSEA says the governor's proposal would cut education funding because it includes no money for a program, referred to as accountability block grants, that pays for full-day kindergarten and other early-childhood initiatives. School districts have access to their shares of $100 million for the program this year, but because the money was appropriated the previous year, the administration argues it is not part of the current budget and cannot be considered a reduction.

"The governor just refuses to look at revenue that's sitting out there to fund our schools," PSEA president Michael Crossey told reporters. "We know last year that the governor refused to look at anything but cuts. We think that's unconscionable. He's doing the same thing this year."

Mr. Crossey said the state should draw more revenue by raising taxes on natural gas drilling, disallowing state companies from avoiding Pennsylvania income taxes by incorporating in Delaware, imposing taxes on cigars and smokeless tobacco and compelling local vendors to cede their full collection of sales taxes to the state.

Tim Eller, a spokesman for the Department of Education, said state taxpayers already send $26 billion each year to education through their federal, state and local taxes.

"This isn't that more money's needed," he said. "It's that school districts and educational entities need to realize and recognize that we're in an economy that has not improved yet, and they need to take the necessary actions to spend within their means."

The PSEA argues in its report that the state should reimburse school districts for payments made to charter schools. School districts with high expenditures per student or high percentages of residents admitted to charter schools have been obligated to send increasing proportions of their budgets to charter schools, the report says.

Mr. Eller, of the Department of Education, said school districts pay for students sent to charter schools because the charter school, rather than the district, educates those pupils. School districts counter that many of their costs for staff remain the same when students go to a charter school and take their state subsidy with them.

The report also calls for the state to release school districts from a 2006 law requiring them to receive approval through a voter referendum, or by special exception, before raising property taxes at a rate greater than that of an index established by the Department of Education.


Karen Langley: klangley@post-gazette.com or 717-787-2141.


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