THE GANG of ragamuffins in the photo to the right was shot by Lewis Hine at the mouth of a Pennsylvania coal mine back in 1911, about seven years before education became compulsory in all the states.

After Gov. Corbett signs the state budget that is destined for his desk, this also may become an image of the future - the only difference being that the kids will be drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale instead of working the coal mines.

They may not be much better educated than their 1911 counterparts, though, since the new budget calls for big and harmful cuts to public education, in higher education as well as K-12.

And Philadelphia will be among the hardest hit among all 500 districts in the state, with state cuts in the basic-education subsidy of nearly 10 percent. That's disturbing enough. But in drawing up this budget, Harrisburg lawmakers seemed to go out of their way to hurt the poorest school districts in the state. For example, of the 50 districts with the biggest state cuts - all of which exceed 9 percent - 62 percent have poverty concentrations of at least 40 percent or more (Philadelphia's rate is 61 percent.) And of the districts with the smallest hits to their budgets, just 1 percent of those have poverty concentrations of 40 percent or more.

The budget isn't any prettier when it comes to social services, like health coverage and food programs for our poorest.

Meanwhile, the gas industry has been coddled, swaddled and protected by its political patrons in Harrisburg, including Corbett, not only from being taxed for what it extracts from the state, but for any fees that might help communities offset the effects of drilling.

This state budget may be finished on time. But that's the only thing that Harrisburg lawmakers can be proud of. With this level of contempt for education, we should make sure they don't start talking about repealing the child-labor laws. *