In 2011, Pennsylvania legislators cut nearly a billion dollars from public education and left our schools shorthanded and without a funding formula. The budget cuts were needed, ostensibly, because Harrisburg—and therefore the taxpayers—could not afford the current education budget. They were saving us money. Or were they? PCCY’s analysis found that, lacking a funding formula, schools in Montgomery County are now underfunded by $34 million and schools in Bucks County are underfunded by $24 million.
Pennsylvania ranks 41st out of 50 states in terms of school funding. For Bucks and Montgomery Counties, the cuts mean that every school district is receiving less state funding than they were when Governor Corbett took office.
Since telling kids not to go to school is not an option, schools have to be open to operate and that takes money. So who pays? PCCY found that it is the taxpayers of the underfunded districts who are left holding the bag for the Governor’s cuts. All 21 school districts in Montgomery County have proposed raising the millage tax this year to cover education budget shortfalls. For the 18 districts in which the data is available, the average proposed tax hike is more than 3%. In Norristown, the most underfunded district and the district hit hardest by the cuts, the tax jump is double that, at over 6%.
Things are just as bad in Bucks County. Like in Montgomery County, Bucks County homeowners are left picking up the tab for the state’s underfunding of education, with all but Bristol Borough School District proposing tax increases, according to the Bristol Borough School District Superintendent’s office. The average Bucks County taxpayer will see their bill jump more than 2% in the 12 districts that have made their plan available. Of course, it’s not like the districts are only now starting to pay for the budget cuts. Since the budget cuts, 18 of Montgomery County’s 21 school districts and 11 of Bucks County’s 13 school districts have already raised taxes. Bristol Borough raised property taxes nearly 12% in the last three years, more than any other district in Bucks County.
The evidence is clear: no money was saved by 2011 budget cuts. The state government just passed the buck on to municipalities and homeowners. Taxpayers were forced to burden a heavier load. When the state government claims they didn’t raise taxes, what they mean is that they forced others to raise taxes. And until Pennsylvania has a fair funding formula in place, homeowners in the Philadelphia area can expect to watch their taxes continue to rise.