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If Pennsy schools are shut, blame state elected officials

December 09, 2003

The next time Pennsylvania's schools are shut down, the odds are good that Mother Nature won't be to blame.

Instead the culprits will be the state's top elected officials, whose argument over how to fund schools has kept the state from sending out its share of subsidy cash. It's time for the two sides to cut a deal so local schools can stay open.

The heart of the dispute is Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell's proposal to end local school systems' heavy dependence on property taxes to fund their operations.

But as part of the deal, Rendell would raise the state's income tax, something lawmakers wary of being labeled tax-and-spend legislators are reluctant to do.

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The result: A stalemate that has resulted in the state missing the first two of its annual payments to local systems.

In October, Rendell said he would veto a stop-gap funding bill, because it would allow lawmakers to avoid considering certain parts of his school reform package, like all-day kindergarten and special programs for the state's poorest school districts.

Now it's two months later and some school districts that have borrowed money to cover their payrolls and other expenses are saying that they might have to shut their doors, at least temporarily, until the dispute is resolved.

That would be a terrible disruption to the school year, at a time when students can ill afford anything that interferes with learning.

But officials of systems like West Green School District have told the Associated Press that they have already borrowed money for operations and won't borrow any more. Instead, Superintendent Ron Fortney said that, absent a deal, his district will shut down on Jan. 5.

AP reported that New Brighton School District in Beaver County has set a Dec. 31 deadline, while Connellsville designated Jan. 16, followed by Lower Dauphin with Feb. 1.

A spokeswoman for the governor said he's "cautiously optimistic" a deal can be reached by Dec. 31. We heard that same sentiment in October. If the schools are shut, Rendell and every lawmaker will have to explain why winning a political argument was more important than educating Pennsylvania's children.

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