Voicing his own concern over the school district's pending budget crisis, State Rep. Dwight Evans today said that governor-elect Tom Corbett, and state lawmakers, despite a bleak financial forecast on both the state and federal levels, must do everything in their power to ensure that funding for education remains a priority.
In its next fiscal year, the Philadelphia School District, the state's largest school district, which receives 57 percent of its funding from Harrisburg, will face a shortage of more than $400 million. Yesterday, Superintendent Arlene Ackerman and Mayor Nutter said they couldn't speculate beyond a $234 million funding gap, made so by federal stimulus grant money that is soon to end.
"I think [the district] is facing the same thing the state is facing," Evans said. "Depending upon how the state treats education spending, Philadelphia could face a huge challenge. If you go by what the governor-elect is saying, there will be some challenge."
Corbett is expected to introduce his first state budget in early March and has said that balancing the state budget, with its projected $4 billion to $5 billion shortfall without increasing taxes or fees, is his top priority.
Corbett has made it clear that he won't necessarily make the same decisions as his predecessor, Gov. Rendell, when it comes to school funding. For most of his two-term tenure, Rendell bolstered education spending for districts across Pennsylvania. His successor has said that instead of increasing funding to underperforming schools, he will seek to enhance school choice.
Evans, who recently lost his seat on the influential House Appropriations Committee, said he's also for educational options, but warned that it comes at a hefty price.
"You cannot do school choice without money. We can't do it on the cheap," he said.
Meanwhile, he added, some of the cards Pennsylvania will have to play with, will come from Washington.
"In Washington, they're talking a lot about deficit reduction," he said referring to a report by the president's National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform which proposes a number of tax and other revenue increases and spending cuts. "No question there will be a huge challenge by what is taking place in Harrisburg and Washington."
Though Democrats are now in the minority in both the House and Senate, Evans emphasized the importance of putting politics aside.
"We have to figure out a strategy that is best for children and parents," he said.