Let’s Do the Time Warp Again?
On July 8, 2005, Pennsylvanians woke up to the shocking news that, in the dead of night, lawmakers voted themselves an immediate pay raise despite constitutional provisions barring such action.
The grand jury that investigated this “Bonusgate” maneuver concluded, “The lack of transparency regarding the General Assembly (especially regarding all expenditures of public funds) is one of the major reasons the General Assembly remains in a ‘time warp.'”
This week’s Spotlight PA exposé shows no waning in the legislature’s desires to spend on themselves, evidenced by the $51 million a year paid in perks to lawmakers on top of earning the highest legislative salaries in the country.
Lavish perks for themselves coupled with a parsimonious approach to school funding is fueling a horror show among school districts statewide that are desperate to stay afloat.
Last week, more than a dozen superintendents from rural, suburban, and urban districts spoke out across the state demanding at least $1.3 billion to avoid blowing holes in their budgets that would tank Pennsylvania’s already too weak educational achievement.
In suburban Philadelphia, pleas for a state funded life preserver were loud and clear. “Here in Bensalem, we’ve been underfunded by the commonwealth by millions of dollars over the last decade,” said Bensalem Superintendent Dr. Sam Lee. “Our district has enacted maximum taxing efforts just to keep options and opportunities available and accessible for our Bensalem kids…but 40% of our operating budget is allocated to charter school costs, teachers’ pensions, and special ed.”
School districts are finalizing their 2022 budgets by knitting together tax increases and program cuts to meet this year’s estimated $665 million increase in pension, charter school, and special education costs. Next year they are looking at another spike of as much as $485 billion.
In the vacuum of elected leadership, new and unique allies are coming together. When superintendents from Carbondale, Eastern Lancaster, and Morrisville stand alongside Philadelphia, Scranton, and Allentown, it’s a sign that a powerful coalition is rising in response to legislative inaction.
The last time the statewide outrage was this palpable was in 2014 when history was made by school advocates forcing an incumbent governor out of office. Today’s outrage feels like déjà vu.
This legislature will not be able to resort to the tired narrative of “there is no money.” Already, two weeks before the new official tax filing deadline, state revenues are $1.5 billion higher than expected. The funds needed for our schools are already in the bank.
Be a part of this growing coalition. Join parents, school leaders, and concerned citizens on Monday for a virtual rally, perfectly timed on the 67th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, demanding the state’s hefty revenues be invested in our schools. It’s a perfect day for lawmakers of every stripe to go on the record that their priority for spending is students, not themselves.
Failing to do so will fuel a redux of 2014 and give the PA Supreme Court justification to force the lawmakers to remedy this injustice. The flush state coffers this year make it possible. State lawmakers can finally break free from the most damaging time warp—the seemingly endless decades of the most inequitable school funding system in the nation.