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Report: PA Schools Pushed to Brink by Local Revenue Losses

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June 14, 2010

HARRISBURG, Penn. - Lower tax revenues and decreased earnings from investments have cost Pennsylvania schools dearly in the past two years since the recession began, according to a new report. The Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials and Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators issued the report, which says two out of three districts plan to cut teachers and other staff next year.

Jim Testerman, president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, says the cuts cannot help but affect his organization, the largest public school employees union in the state.

"Collectively, the school districts of Pennsylvania lost $343 million in local revenue and, when you have about 500 school districts across the state, that's a pretty significant hit in each one."

Testerman says that kind of loss makes it critical that a $354 million increase proposed for public education by Gov. Rendell in the upcoming state budget remains intact. He adds the schools will also do without federal stimulus money this year, although he believes education deserves the same consideration received by some industries at the outset of the recession.

"We made a decision in this country a couple years ago that several big businesses were 'too big to fail.' I think education is too big to fail, for our students. States need additional help from the federal government until their economies turn around."

While U.S. automakers have been forced to retool and rethink how they do business, the same methods can't be applied to schools, notes Testerman.

"Unlike a car factory, where you can say, 'Well, we just won't produce as many cars,' the students are not going away. The students need access to quality services and programs, and it's our job to make sure we deliver that for them."

Rendell and state lawmakers say they'll seek a compromise to get a spending plan in place by the June 30 deadline; they also have vowed to avoid the kind of wrangling that led to a 101-day standoff last year.

Tom Joseph, Public News Service - PA