Gov. Tom Corbett’s proposed budget for 2014-15 was released Tuesday, Feb. 4. According to the Lehigh Valley’s Morning Call, the proposed $29.4 billion budget would ramp up education spending from where it was last year, “with an infusion of $400 million for school districts and $25 million for college scholarships in 2014-15.” The education budget as a whole is a 3.5% increase from that of this fiscal year.
For Millersville, this is not exciting news. According to a Feb. 4 press release from the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE), the governor’s “proposed budget recommends $412.8 million for PAASHE […] [the] same funding level for third straight year” (emphasis theirs). PASSHE board members released positive statements that acknowledged that the budget was still being negotiated, and that state schools have had to make painful cuts and recognize and respond to the economic conditions in the state by focusing on degree programs that fill needs in the market.
According to members of MU’s Student Senate, Vice President for Finance and Administration Roger Bruszewski said that since Millersville’s funding hasn’t increased, with the proposed budget for next year the university will run a $43.7 million deficit. If the school were to compensate for this by increasing tuition, rates would go up by 5.5% for each student.
The governor has been a champion of privatization: he has proposed privatizing the state lottery and handing over the sale of liquor to private interests. This has carried over into his budget decisions regarding education. According to a Sept. 2012 article by Bill White in the Morning Call, Corbett promoted charter schools after accepting a large amount of money in the form of campaign contributions from the CEO of the largest charter school in Pa.
The cuts to public education have amounted to a de facto promotion of charter schools in the state. Drastic budget cuts require drastic Band-Aids, such as cutting unionized employees and outsourcing work to private companies. Public schools do these things to save money.
Corbett’s actions are part of his narrative about “creating jobs” in the private sector— a way to justify giving tax breaks to corporations. His actions are also part of a nationwide push spearheaded by political action committees like the American Legislative and Exchange Council (ALEC) to privatize state projects and services while giving tax breaks to corporations in the oil and gas industries.
Corbett and his wife were found by StateImpact PA, a project of National Public Radio, to have accepted over $15,000 in gifts from Blank Rome LLP, a law firm that represents the oil and gas industry and fights state and federal environmental regulators. Gifts included expensive meals, tickets to sports games, and concert tickets. The firm also donated between $15,000 and $25,000 to the governor’s 2011 Inaugural Ball.
In December 2013, StateImpact PA said Corbett appointed Chris Abruzzo as head of the Department of Environmental Protection. Abruzzo stated that he has “not read any scientific studies” that led him to think that climate change is at all harmful. This man replaced Michael Krancer, a former partner at Blank Rome whom Corbett appointed shortly after he was elected.
Corbett’s cuts to education hurt those who need the most support from their schools: poor children. According to the national magazine n + 1, an education “doomsday budget” in 2013 produced a mass outcry from Philadelphia teachers, students and parents last May. Two months earlier, in April 2013, the city’s School Reform Commission had voted to close 24 of Philadelphia’s public schools. 93% of the affected children were from low-income households. The school closings forced students to attend schools in strange neighborhoods, through which many had to walk one or two miles to and from school in the dark.
Because of the $400 million in budget cuts made by Corbett’s administration in 2011-12, in 2013 the School District of Philadelphia averaged one school nurse per 1500 students; at schools with less than 600 students, there would be no counselors. Thousands of safety officers, counselors, cafeteria, maintenance, custodial, office workers, and teachers were laid off.
Now, in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Kristin Graham and Martha Woodall say that Philadelphia schools will get $29 million in new money, but because that amount comes in the form of a grant and the city’s schools are classed as worse-performing, the schools will have little choice as to what they spend the money on. The new funding “falls far short of the funding needed to restore the student programs and services lost to previous budget cuts,” Philadelphia Federation of Teachers member Jerry Jordan said.
Locally, the chronically underfunded School District of Lancaster was hit hard by the cuts. In 2011, the district, which according to Brian Wallace of LancasterOnline gets 44 percent of its funding from the state, had to cope with a $10 million funding gap, which was partly the result of a 2011-12 $4.5 million reduction in state funding. SDL dealt with its deficit in part by terminating 16 librarians, 12 elementary Spanish teachers, nine elementary school deans, 16 secondary school coordinators, 11 administrative positions and 10 outreach workers, Wallace said.
One consequence of the cuts to SDL was the district’s agreement to let the independent education firm Camelot Schools run both of its alternative schools, Phoenix Academy and Buehrle Alternative School. This was a very tough decision for the district. By outsourcing labor to the private firm, SDL was able to save over $1 million each year.
In a speech on Feb. 4, Corbett said, “Every child in this state should be ready to learn, ready to grow, ready to succeed, and my budget sets an agenda in that spirit […] every dollar we spend is an investment in the future of our commonwealth.”
The Morning Call reported that some lawmakers praised the governor’s speech; others were not so happy. But regardless of whether his speech was inspiring or incensing, Pennsylvania might not even have the funds to feed Corbett’s proposed budget: as Rep. Dan Frankel said, “This budget proposes $1.2 billion in unsustainable funding sources.” This includes one-time revenue sources. The budget is also based on rosy projections for state revenue growth, said the Morning Call.
What does it mean to be corrupt?
Corbett’s actions have reflected the interests of those who have the greatest amount of power to put him in office, keep him there for a second term, and help fund a rich lifestyle. He has consistently acted against the interests of poor and middle-class Pennsylvanians, against the state’s water, air, and land and according to Public Policy Polling is the least popular governor in the country. A successful 2014 campaign for this governor might be more than his corporate backers can afford.