(284) Sunday, September 18, 2016 – Pennsylvania’s greatest and most expensive sitcom comes out of recess tomorrow.
The Pennsylvania House of Representatives convenes after a summer of campaigning for re-election. The Senate returns next Monday.
The Senate convened for a half-day two weeks ago. Embattled Attorney General Kathleen Kane was convicted of high crimes and resigned. While Bruce Castor, her second in command, is a Republican, Senate leaders of his own Party could not trust him.
He had power to release more pornographic emails. Senate Republican leaders wisely put their own survival ahead of party. They raced into Harrisburg and quickly confirmed Gov. Tom Wolf’s nominee of Bruce Beemer, even though he is a registered Democrat.
Beemer has not indicated when, or if, he will release the additional titillating prose from Central PA’s elite judges, prosecutors, lawmakers and other high-ups. Beemer can only serve until January. Then the office will be filled by a newly-elected non-descript politician committed to taking the department back to its toothless tiger role of the last three decades.
Keep in mind, neither the House nor Senate will be in session much before the November election. If they remained in steady session, voters might expect productivity.
As it is, six House members and six Senators are wearing arm slings. They are all members of the PA Basic Education Funding Commission who completed two years of “rigorous work” this past spring.
The arm slings are a result of patting themselves on the back for their alleged accomplishment.
After hearings involving a hundred witnesses around the state, countless meetings and research, the Commission came up with the following conclusion.
Henceforth, all new funds for basic public education will go to those districts that have been getting financially screwed.
Based on the level of new appropriations included in the current state budget, at least 25 years will be required to equalize funding to all 503 school districts!
This was another battle won by the Republicans, most of whom oppose any new funding for public education.
A terrible injustice exists in the state’s funding of public education. Decades of greed and politics by lawmakers and Governors of both parties has resulted in our children getting a good or bad education depending in what zip code they reside in.
In Western PA the problem is particularly acute because of an eroding tax base. In the northwest is Erie City school district where a debate raged this summer to close all four high schools and send 9-12 kiddies to suburban schools. In the southwest, the debt of Penn Hills School District ballooned to $170 million in 2015 and 45 teachers were scheduled for furlough.
In-between are too many smaller, inefficient school districts, often graduating only about 50 students per year.
Both legislative chambers are now solidly Republican. The GOP fights fiercely to insure new public education funding remains a trickle. Many of them would rather see more education appropriations go to charter schools. These schools pay teachers non-union wages and less benefits. This leaves moneys for the operators to make campaign contributions to cooperative lawmakers.
Gov. Wolf, in his first two budgets proposed increases in sales and income taxes that would go to equalizing support for public education sooner rather than later. These proposals were brushed aside by the legislature. Even Democrats, concerned first with saving their jobs, have not shown solid support for Wolf’s packages.
Bottom Line: Too many lawmakers hope that a solution for appropriate state funding of public education can be implemented without their involvement. With multiple school districts in their domain, any proposal advanced to benefits all 503 school districts is too expensive. Translated, every solution may improve funding for some districts, but threatens existing appropriations to others.
Over 50 years ago, tiny school districts were pushed to consolidate into the current union districts. The solution was simple. If tiny districts merged into a larger, more efficient school system, the new entity got more state funds. Old school board members and administrators who believe they were being unjustly forced into consolidation resented this.
Lawmakers then were not paid so well with luxurious benefits. Most went to Harrisburg to advance state government and help people.