Pennsylvania education experts dissect Corbett's proposed schools budget

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The Education Policy and Leadership Center today held a forum to help school leaders understand Gov. Tom Corbett's proposed education budget that was released last week.

The center's president, Ron Cowell, said the governor's proposal calls for adding $90 million to the basic education subsidy but still would provide nearly $800 million less than in September 2010, when federal economic stimulus money was available.

He said the proposed budget also is short more than $100 million of the amount required by law to fund school employee pensions. The governor plans to save money by, among other things, reducing benefits earned by current employees in the future, a move expected to provoke a teacher union lawsuit.

A proposed Passport for Learning block grant, which would not take effect until 2014-15, is dependent on the sale of state liquor stores.

"There are so many ifs here," Mr. Cowell said.

Sharon Ward, executive director of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, called the revenue sources in the proposed budget a "house of cards."

She noted it contains tax breaks for businesses rather than larger increases for education and some social programs.

Quaker Valley Superintendent Joseph Clapper noted that the governor's proposal calls for an increase of about $28,000 in his district, or about $14 per student.

"So we're thinking new pencils," he said.

Brett Lago, director of business affairs for the Penn-Trafford School District, said the state subsidy has failed to keep up with inflation. He expects his district will exhaust its $4.5 million fund balance by the end of 2014-15.

Kenneth Service, executive director of the Pittsburgh Council on Higher Education, said Pennsylvania ranks low in the nation in its state support of higher education.

The forum was at the Holiday Inn in Oakland.

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Education writer Eleanor Chute: echute@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1955.


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