It has come to this. Eight months into a fiscal year without a completed state budget, the Department of Education is advising Pennsylvania school districts on how to shut down if they run out of money.
Under the nebulous heading of “Considerations for School Districts,” the 11-point checklist of “suggested activities” is recommended for administrators, solicitors and other school officials who may be contemplating closure. Among the tips are: Figure out how to meet the 180-day instruction minimum while being closed, make a plan for how to address payroll and give families enough notice to enroll their students in other schools.
It’s in very matter-of-fact language, yet there is nothing matter-of-fact about the failure of Democrats and Republicans in Harrisburg to approve a 2015-16 spending plan. Pennsylvania’s fiscal year begins on July 1, yet here it is almost March 1 and the $23.39 billion partial budget approved by Gov. Tom Wolf in December is about to peter out for public schools. Maybe that explains his record low approval rating, now at 31 percent.
Before Christmas, the Republican-controlled Legislature passed and sent him a $30.26 billion budget, 3.6 percent larger than the previous year’s. But he vetoed large chunks of it in hopes of getting lawmakers to negotiate a plan more to his liking. It was a grave political miscalculation.
Then on Feb. 9, Mr. Wolf put forth his 2016-17 proposal, a $32.72 billion budget that builds on a previous year’s plan that does not exist. And one of his themes is “Government That Works”?!
No wonder the state is left today with telling schools how to shut down. Pennsylvania’s public schools may need this advice, but what they really need is a completed budget. The directive is an embarrassment for the Wolf administration and a black eye for the Legislature. Government leaders of both parties are guilty of malpractice, but it’s children and their parents who will pay the price.
Forget the hearings and the analysis for any 2016-17 spending. State officials must drop everything and finish this year’s budget while it’s still this year.