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East Penn Board President Says Corbett Fools Public Again

East Penn School Board President Charles Ballard explains what he calls the Governor's latest slight of hand.

By Charles Ballard, President, East Penn School Board

In confidence games, like Three Card Monte, and magic tricks, misdirection is the key to fooling the audience. If you can get people looking at the wrong place at the right time, you can slip something past them. The Governor’s latest budget for education is a case of the use of this old technique by a politician.

In the past, there were several different line items of state payment to school districts that covered widely different things, like the basic education subsidy (supposedly the state’s share of the cost of education), payment of half of the social security tax on district employee wages, the state share of PSERS (the state-mandated retirement program), and state partial reimbursement for transportation costs of public and non-public school students, for example. None of these costs are really linked to each other, as they are for really separate items, and go up by different rates every year. Each was treated separately in the old education budgets.

All of a sudden, in the new budget, several of these payments are "bundled" into something called a "Block Grant," along with the basic education subsidy, that is, one lump sum of money with no differentiation on the various payments put into it. The misdirection starts with the Governor’s claim that the purpose for this is to make it "easier" for the school districts to "reallocate the funds." At the same time, the claim is made that he is "increasing the funding for education." Hey, where did that card go…….?

All of this is intended to fool the public, both now and later. The now part is that the Governor is claiming he is increasing funds to K-12 education. He is actually proposing a small increase to the basic education subsidy, which is part of the new block grant, but at the same time he is cancelling another block grant program for $95 million that schools received for things like all-day kindergarten and remediation of students from low-income families. Net effect, he is cutting education funding AGAIN. $700 million wasn’t enough for him last year, apparently.

The later part is in the bundling of several payments into the one Block Grant sack, so you can’t see the pig in the poke. With this approach, the Governor will be able to raise the block grant amount a small amount to claim that he is again "increasing the amount spent on education," but not have to explain that he is actually cutting education again because the amounts for the other bundled programs aren’t going up enough to cover the cost increases in those programs.  Not only do taxpayers not get to look in the poke, they can’t even squeeze it to tell what’s all in there. 

Then, school districts will have to decide which program to "short" because the total doesn’t cover all the costs associated with the bundled programs. That’s the "flexibility" the Governor is giving us.

Hey, this is all part of the show. When you are bamboozled and distracted enough by his slight of hand, he wants to send your tax dollars to private and religious schools in the form of vouchers, without requiring any accounting for the money spent, or requiring those schools getting your dollars to take the PSSA or Keystone tests to prove that they are effectively using those dollars.

Maybe after the show, you will want to buy some of his Marcellus Shale Snake Oil, guaranteed to convince you that an impact fee isn’t a tax, so that he can claim he didn’t raise taxes at the same time he is "increasing" the amount the state spends on education, right?

Maybe it would be a good thing for you to let the Governor and your local legislators know what you think of this show. Before they ride out of town on their medicine show wagon with your money.

is the President of the , but this opinion is his own personal opinion, and does not necessarily represent that of the Board or  the School District.

Chuck Ballard February 18, 2012 at 11:02 PM
Ted: Please stop comparing ACTUAL revenue from the state in one year to BUDGETED revenue from the state in other years. You know better. The only true comparison is actual to actual. The basic education subsidy over those years only went up 2%. Also, the federal stimulus money was substituted by the state for some of funds they would have otherwise had to pay the district and so the 'unsustainable' is not accurate either. The state balanced their budget with the federal stimulus money. Not all of it was 'extra' and thus 'unsustainable".
ted.dobracki February 19, 2012 at 02:43 PM
Chuck: please stop admonishing me for doing exactly what you and school boards properly and necessarily must do, which is to use the best available data. When you work on the 12-13 BUDGET, you will certainly look at the 11-12 BUDGET and the ACTUAL numbers for 10-11. You also might look other hybrid cases for 11-12, (or at least the administration will), in a “work in progress” or similar format. Anything less would be foolish. And I’m certain YOU KNOW THAT, in spite of your exhortation to the contrary. With regard to your second paragraph, I agree with you that the state balanced their budget with stimulus money to make up moneys they didn’t have, while you seem to agree with me that there was some ‘extra’ money beyond that was essentially passed to school districts to make up for other (non-state) revenues they lost. And that is my point for comparing 09-10 with 11-12 in my original posting: 2010-2011 is so weird, that it is difficult to interpret its numbers, because of the ostensible spike in state funding. Both budget numbers and actual numbers 10-11 are an anomaly and are outlying data points. Indeed, you should reserve some of your criticism to “Truth Seeker” who introduced the 10-11 BUDGET numbers into the discussion when much more accurate ACTUAL numbers for that year are available in the recent bond statements. BTW, those documents show a 20% increase in total state funding over the last 5 years for which there is ACTUAL data.
Chuck Ballard February 20, 2012 at 03:02 AM
Ted: The comparison is only valid on actuals, no matter what you say. The basic education subsidy has only gone up 2% per year or less for the past 5 years. If your 'total state funding' includes social security tax payments and PSERS share for the state, those funds have nothing to do with what East Penn 'gets' from the state because they are pass-through funds that really don't go to us. WE haven't gotten 20% more for the educational purposes of the district, and trying to use that number is disingenuous.
ted.dobracki February 20, 2012 at 02:52 PM
And thus spake Zarathrustra, Thou must not utter anything about the current year, for the numbers are not actual, and they mean only what we want them to mean. Have we reached the point of know return? (apologies to Kansas)
Robin Kaliner February 25, 2012 at 07:57 PM
Mr. Ballard, I applaud you for your editorial. It is heartening to see a school board member sticking up for public eduation (should be a moot point, but not so on all boards). I would love to see a member of the West Chester School Board stick up for our district against the Gov who continues to defund our children's educations. But unfortunately we have a majority of right wing extremist tea partiers who would like nothing more than to see our schools fail to make room for vouchers to support private & parochial school interests. Artie & Black Sheep, it is Gov Corbett you should direct your anger toward, not the school boards which are just trying to keep their heads above water. The governor is pushing cuts to education funding for a second year in a row, while simultaneously working to divert $Ms to vouchers & charter schools--I agree with manfromuncle & srodham69 wholeheartedly, these ventures are huge scams and breeders of corruption that are stealing $Ms from taxpayers and putting it in the hands of those smart enough to take advantage of a subpar funding system. Gov Corbett's latest plan is to remove any risk to the state for future transportation & FICA cost increases and make all future funding arbitrary rather than formula & true cost driven. Not to mention the huge PSERS liability that the state caused in the first place which is eating up more & more of district's budgets, and mandates that also cost so much but add no value.

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