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.