Pa. sued over budget fight’s holdup of school aid
HARRISBURG — The Pennsylvania School Boards Association sued Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and the Republican-controlled state House and Senate on Friday, saying it is illegal and unconstitutional to withhold state and federal school aid during a budget impasse.
The lawsuit, which also names Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera and state Treasurer Timothy Reese, asked Commonwealth Court to prevent the state from withholding the dollars. It also seeks damages for the loss of investment income and borrowing costs while school districts went six months without aid.
The organization’s executive director, Nathan Mains, said schools have borrowed nearly $1 billion to cover costs during the impasse.
“What we are witnessing is a complete failure of our state government to fulfill its constitutional duty to ensure that the education of our children is not interrupted,” Mains said in a statement.
In a statement, the Democratic governor said he shared the school board association’s frustrations and that he has fought for “historic increases in education funding at all levels since day one.”
GOP lawmakers have criticized Wolf for creating a crisis that could have been avoided if he had not vetoed the entire budget package they sent him when the last fiscal year ended in June.
Wolf authorized about $7 billion for schools last week after a record-long budget stalemate with the Republican-controlled Legislature dating back to July 1. However, Wolf also vetoed about $3 billion, leaving schools with about six months of retroactive funding for operations and instruction.
It raises the possibility that schools could see another funding crunch in the coming weeks, putting pressure on lawmakers to increase the amount they are willing to approve for schools.
Some school districts had warned in December that they may remain closed after winter break and some worried they would be unable to borrow more money to make payroll in January.
Wolf’s bipartisan budget deal struck in November with House and Senate leaders had promised $350 million more, a 6 percent increase, for public schools’ operations and instruction. The Republican-crafted budget bill sent to Wolf’s desk last month delivered $150 million more.
All told, Wolf has vetoed parts or all of three Republican-written budget plans sent to his desk, saying the GOP is shortchanging schools and social services and failing to address a long-term deficit that has damaged the state’s credit rating. Republicans have accused Wolf of holding schools hostage.