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Emergency funding for schools offers brief respite

Jessica Schladebeck
505-5438/@JessDispatch

The emergency funding for education released by Gov. Tom Wolf on Tuesday will allow Pennsylvania schools to keep their doors open for now, but districts' futures will remain uncertain until a full budget is agreed upon.

On The Brink - Posters for Tania for Prom Queen line Students walk the halls at York City's William Penn Senior High School in this file photo. (John A. Pavoncello - jpavoncello@yorkdispatch.com

Wolf announced during a news conference he would veto several items in the Republican's proposed budget, including the education funding plan, citing a $95 million cut for school districts. Additionally, the proposed budget wouldn't include new funding for many of the universities that receive money from the state, including Penn State, Pitt, Temple and others.

Wolf did grant York County districts and those across the state six months of back-funding, through Dec. 31, based on the agreed-to, bipartisan budget for basic education to help them remain open while discussion regarding education funding continues

"The governor's decision provides a very brief respite and some breathing room for all of school districts across Pennsylvania, including York City, and ensures they can reopen after Christmas break," said Rep. Kevin Schreiber, D-York City. "This breathing room will exhaust quickly though, and the urgency is all that much more prevalent to adopt the full-year budget."

Schreiber said lawmakers need to "see the forest through the trees" and "adequately fund education."

Temporary fix: According to Spring Grove Area School District's business manager, George Ioannidis, the emergency funding essentially pushes back the deadline for which the district would have to seek a line of credit.

Ioannidis said the district would have fared OK through late February, possibly into early March, without additional help.

"I told the board at the last meeting, if there's not any kind of movement with the budget we would start pursuing a line of credit in January," he said. "We were waiting to see if there would be any movement through the holidays. ... If we do get that half subsidy as promised, but the impasse continues, we'll probably postpone any paper work or action to secure a line of credit until late February, maybe even later than that."

Until the final budget is passed, districts are still mired in uncertainty.

Funding in York City schools, other financially distressed districts, and those rural districts who have seen recent population decreases is "precarious," Schreiber said.

"York City — like a lot of the school districts — would have run through their remaining money pretty soon," he said. "This retroactive reimbursement will allow them to stay open, but we need to be talking about how to more beneficially educate our students."

Back to work: In the final budget, Wolf hopes to see $350 million increase for basic education, $50 million for special education and $10 million more for Head Start and early education programs.

While he didn't give a total number for the emergency funding for schools, Wolf released at total of $23.3 billion in emergency funding for state corrections institutions and medical assistance capitation as well as education.

Wolf said during the press conference that an ill-conceived budget could lead to massive cuts to education and human services next year, and he called on lawmakers to "get back to work. Let’s get back to the work the people of Pennsylvania sent you here to do. Let’s get back to work to finish the job you almost finished last week."

— Reach Jessica Schladebeck at jschladebeck@yorkdispatch.com.