By A. B. HILL
For most Pennsylvanians, this time of year means leisurely vacations, picnics and displays of fireworks. For some in Harrisburg, unfortunately, June and July can mean long hours, anxiety and a different kind of fireworks – the political debate about the state budget.
The downturn in the economy is posing a challenge to the budget. Despite these constraints, some state leaders say they are committed to adequate support for education, describing those programs as an essential investment in our future.
Although funding for public schools is proposed to increase, deep cuts are proposed for the few education budget line items that benefit nonpublic school students. A 12 percent cut is proposed for textbooks, materials, equipment and services to nonpublic schools.
What is at stake for nonpublic schools in this year’s budget proposal?
Nonpublic school students receive some funding in the state budget for activities and materials, for example, textbooks, materials, equipment and other services such as programs for students with special needs.
In the past, appropriations for public and nonpublic schoolchildren moved at a similar percentage rate. This long-standing agreement was always honored until recently. The public school subsidy increased at a respectable rate every year. The line items that benefit nonpublic schoolchildren also increased, but at a much lower rate. This year, however, the disparity grows dramatically with a proposed 5.7 percent increase for public schools but an 11.8 percent decrease for nonpublic.
How do nonpublic students, like the 164,000 who attend our Catholic schools, benefit from these line items?
The line items that benefit nonpublic students are minor in the overall scheme of the budget – just .02 percent of the $5.8 billion basic education subsidy. But the textbooks, materials, equipment and services they provide mean a lot to nonpublic schoolchildren and their parents. The $103 per child that would put textbooks and other materials in their backpacks may be a small investment in the scheme of things, but are significant for parents who choose to make sacrifices to keep their child in nonpublic school.
What is the PCC asking for in the budget negotiations?
The PCC understands that tough economic times require us to make the most of limited resources, but we agree that supporting a child’s education now is an investment in tomorrow’s economy. The 164,000 kids who attend Catholic schools deserve the same opportunity. We are simply asking for fair consideration in the education budget.
Where does the money come from to pay for these education-spending proposals?
The proposed increase in the basic education subsidy for public schools will be funded with federal stimulus dollars. The federal dollars could cover the nonpublic line items, too.
What can citizens do to voice their concern about the budget cuts?
PCC asked this question to Rep. John J. Taylor (R – Philadelphia), a long-time supporter of pro-life issues, the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program and funding for Catholic education. “Each inspanidual household should contact their own state representative or senator,” Taylor said. “We do pay attention to even just one such contact. People should explain to their representatives how important (Catholic) education is to them and how (for some families) it is not just a want but a need.”
Rep. Rich Grucela (D-Northampton), another pro-life and Catholic education supporter, echoed the advice. “As always I welcome constituents to write, e-mail, call or visit my offices to voice their opinions on the budget, especially in this most difficult year,” he said.
Taylor added, “(Nonpublic schools) remain a priority with a large number of members. There may be a few more weeks of pain, but ultimately (a fair state budget) will get done.”
To voice your opinion about the state budget cuts, visit, call, fax, write or e-mail your state legislators. Look for their contact information on the Pennsylvania Catholic Advocacy Network page at www.pacatholic.org.
Hill is Communications Director of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference – the public affairs arm of Pennsylvania’s Catholic bishops and the Catholic dioceses of Pennsylvania.