Editorial: Wolf must compromise to pass budget, save schools

(Nabil K. Mark/Centre Daily Times/TNS)

Our state has been without a budget since July, meaning public services — like education — have been without funding for more than 100 days.

This lack of a budget exemplifies Harrisburg’s inability to compromise, but the time for partisan debate has long been over — Pennsylvania’s representatives need to ditch their political motives and pass a budget.

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has to help lead this effort. He must work with the Republican-controlled congress in Harrisburg to craft a bipartisan budget as soon as possible. As the Pennsylvania budget crisis continues to grind on, state funding is drying up for the very people Wolf campaigned for — our educators. 

“Pennsylvania public schools are now at Defcon 1,” writes Mareesa Nicosia for The Atlantic. “[They’re] borrowing millions of dollars to keep the lights on, starting to ask teachers to work without pay and even voting to shut the schoolhouse doors and send the kids home.”

The budget impasse affects poorer public school districts the most. The situation in school districts of Erie, Pennsylvania, for instance, is dire. Seventy percent of the district’s budget comes from state funding and 80 percent of its students are from lower-income families.

“Nobody anticipated the budget would come in on time … we knew that this impasse would happen, but as it drags on and the effects become more real, it takes on the sense of a crisis,” the superintendent of public schools in Erie, Jay Badams, told The Atlantic.

The impasse forces school districts like Erie’s to borrow money from banks just to stay open. In total, school districts are already borrowing more than $400 million, forcing them into debts that will last well after the state passes a budget, according to the state auditor general. These debts will affect the education of thousands of students, as schools will have to redirect funds toward paying off loans, rather than to teachers and textbooks.

When Wolf came into office, he proposed to increase education funding by about $2 billion over four years. Wolf argued that increasing the state’s income and sales taxes, as well as by initiating a severance tax on natural gas drilling, could achieve this.

Republicans have agreed to fund schools more, but not by as much as Wolf wants or through the same means. Rather, they believe they can fund schools through decreasing the funding for statewide liquor stores and for social benefits, such as welfare subsidies.

If either side wants to fund schools anytime soon, though, both Wolf and the Republicans need to start making some concessions. For instance, Wolf can concede to scale back the operations of state liquor, if the Republicans allow for a severance tax on frackers.

Neither side is going to get everything it wants — Wolf and the Republicans need to swallow their pride and find some common ground.

If they can’t, many schools, like those in Erie, will be forced to close their doors.

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