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Pa. Senate budget plan softens cuts in education

June 28, 2011|By JENNIFER FITCH | waynesboro@herald-mail.com

HARRISBURG, Pa. — The Pennsylvania Senate on Tuesday passed a $27.15 billion spending plan that would make cuts in education aid, though not as deep as once proposed.

The budget would reduce state spending by about 3 percent, largely due to about $1.1 billion in cuts to public schools and universities, the Associated Press reported.

State Sen. Richard Alloway, R-Franklin/Adams/York, said the latest budget version restores $250 million for K-12 basic education funding and $100 million for accountability block grants commonly used for extended-day kindergarten programs.

GOP Gov. Tom Corbett, who is in his first year in office, had proposed resetting education funding to 2008-09 levels, before the federal stimulus program ratcheted up allocations.

The budget, which passed the Senate on a 30-20 vote, now goes to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. That Republican-controlled chamber and Corbett are expected to approve it before the state’s new fiscal year begins Friday.

“It’s fiscally responsbile and sustainable. We have money we’re setting aside in reserves until we see what happens with the economy,” Alloway said in a phone interview Tuesday night.

The budget includes no new taxes, he said.

Details of the bill were unveiled Monday after two weeks of intense, closed-door negotiations between Corbett and Republican lawmakers. The budget would reduce state spending by about 3 percent, thanks largely to about $1.1 billion in cuts to public schools and universities.

Democrats warned that school class sizes and property taxes would rise while schools and universities lay off thousands of teachers and other employees. Meanwhile, they said, the state will carry a surplus of about $500 million into next year.

Greencastle-Antrim School District Superintendent C. Gregory Hoover said any dollars to his district beyond the early, estimated allocations would be first used to restore depleted savings.

“I won’t get excited until the final budget is passed. ... You could go crazy trying to figure out how much you’re going to get,” Hoover said.

Because of Greencastle-Antrim’s predetermined aid ratio, its share of the $250 million would be less than some other districts in the region. Hoover said he did not have an estimate for what that amount would be.

Waynesboro Area School District officials initially expected a $1.1 million reduction in basic education funding and $381,000 in accountability block grants. Waynesboro Superintendent James Robertson said Tuesday he’s anticipating that those amounts would be lessened by about $413,000 in the budget working its way through the legislature.

“It’s a tight budget year,” Robertson said. “It’s very tight.”

The Waynesboro Area School Board is scheduled to adopt its final budget for 2011-12 on Thursday. The Greencastle-Antrim School Board passed a $32.45 million budget June 16.

The Chambersburg (Pa.) Area School Board passed a $109 miilion budget last week, according to business manager Steve Dart.

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