Our Schools Deserve Better: $297M vs $62M
On Tuesday this week, the House of Representatives passed House Bill 1367, a measure that among many things, attempts to help schools across the state by allowing them more flexibility in the use of state funds. As revenues have fallen sharply, schools, an area that makes up well over 50 percent of the state's budget, have had to bear some of the burden that's affecting every area of state government-specifically by cutting 4.5 percent (a total of $297 million statewide) from their operating budgets.
To alleviate the affects of the general fund cuts, members of the House majority party, Democrats authored HB 1367. The bill allows schools to transfer money from other funds to their general fund in order to cover budget shortfalls. The House majority claims their plan will give schools the ability to reallocate $418 million to address more pressing needs. However, under current law, schools can already reallocate $356 million-or 85 percent-of the funds on their own today without any new legislation. Of the remaining $62 million that requires new legislation to move, $4.6 million would be diverted from important educational reforms for which we've been fighting so hard. Specifically, the bill would remove funding ($1.217 million) for ACT/SAT/PSAT test preparation programs, eliminate the $2.5 million originally set aside from the School Scholarship Tax Credit Program and cut $876,000 from the Virtual Charter School Pilot Program. The remaining $57 million comes from new transfers within the capital project fund.
This bill not only removes important reforms that allow disadvantaged families to have a choice in where they send their child to school but it also eliminates critical college preparation tools. Is it worth all that to only give schools an extra $4.6 million, or approximately $4.61 a student?
During debate, it was suggested that passing this bill is the only thing the legislature could do to help out schools-that there were no other solutions. That simply is not true. When the bill came out of committee and before the House, Republicans presented a Minority Report-essentially an alternative plan-to help schools during this downturn. The minority report gave schools true flexibility in their efforts to use monies to cover shortfalls.
In fact, there are several funds that current law prohibits the use of to cover general fund expenses. Our plan would have opened up those funds for schools to use, provided it was spent in the classroom. It also stipulated that the amount used could not exceed the reduced funding amount.
The bottom line is this: The minority committee report for HB 1367 would have provided schools with a common-sense approach to offset operating funding reductions by giving them flexibility of the resources they already have, all without adding a penny to the property tax burden. The minority committee report would have given the schools true flexibility to remain whole, plus give them the option of using the $358 million in HB 1367.
This solution will require all stakeholders to participate in order to address this problem. This includes parents, teachers (union and non-union), administration and the state. The one constant is the kids. HB 1367 attacked and took advantage of the situation and didn't provide our schools with enough support.