Policy Position on the 2011-12 State Budget Proposal
PART TWO: Education

Background
Governor Corbett’s recently presented 2011-2012 State Budget proposal has focused a spotlight on the challenges faced by education in Pennsylvania. From the local public schools to parochial schools; from cyber-schools to home schools; and from higher education to technical education, the issue of education as a whole is under great scrutiny.

While the funding debate goes on, what is clear is that education is an absolutely essential element of our State’s future success and, as such, must be addressed beyond just the dollars and cents issues that often drive the discussion. The review must be more comprehensive, more creative and more inclusive than has been demonstrated to date and the solutions must represent broad-based compromise that promote the success of all venues of education for our citizenry – public to private; technical to post-secondary.  Simply put, we must find a way to promote significant cost savings in the delivery of an essential service.

The Board of Directors of The Lancaster Chamber of Commerce & Industry values the role education plays in fulfilling our mission statement to make Lancaster County a model of prosperity for 21st Century America. To be clear, the educational network in Lancaster County is an economic generator in two ways: Firstly, a strong education network is essential for the quality of our future workforce and overall quality of life in the County; and, Secondly, education is a strong component of our overall economy through the number of jobs, the local purchasing, the value it can add to the local real estate market and many other economic factors.
 
The Chamber further recognizes the need to ensure that education is delivered in a way that is effective, efficient and reflects the changing needs and expectations of our society. These challenges make for a very difficult balancing act, yet must be addressed if we are to thrive with a well-trained, well-educated workforce where our community and its people realize their maximum potential.

Policy Position
While we respect the fiscal discipline the state is currently advocating and the commitment to create a stable tax environment and while we addressed the support and our rationale extensively in PART ONE of our State Budget position statement, we further believe that the state must be doing more to address the unique needs and benefits of our pre-K through college comprehensive educational network – some of which are beyond simply “throwing more money at the problem.” In this regard, we suggest the following:

  • Mandate Relief – One of the most onerous cost-drivers for public schools is the amount of mandates imposed by the State. These mandates are most-often unfunded, take away local flexibility and decision-making and add to the bureaucratic and budget challenges of running a public school district. More specifically, State mandates governing such issues as school district purchasing, education reporting and cyber school payment put public schools at a disadvantage in trying to target available dollars directly to their specific students’ instruction and needs. Often the true costs of these mandates are not calculated and, consequently, not considered when adding them to the cost of operating an educational system. Clarity on the cost impact of mandates should serve as the minimum threshold for any new mandate consideration; yet overall mandate reform must remain a priority;
  • Pension Reform – Simply put, past state government policy has created an unsustainable pension system that imposes much of the cost burden on our local public education systems – a burden that our local systems cannot endure. Pension reform, both for state government and public school employees, needs immediate attention and must go far beyond the changes made during the previous legislative session;
  • Two-Year Education Funding – Aligned with our earlier support for consideration of a two-year state budget, we believe public education would benefit from a two-year budget outlook. As it currently stands, local public education – both at the school district level and at institutions of higher learning – often ends up playing a guessing game when it comes to formulating its local budget, without the benefit of clear direction from the state budget cycle. A two-year commitment would greatly enhance planning and provide additional stability to public schools;
  • The Right to Furlough Professional Staff for Economic Reasons – Current law forbids school districts to furlough professional employees for economic reasons, a law which denies the economic reality of today’s challenges. This outdated practice forces school districts to make cost-cutting decisions that may not be in the best interest of the public (particularly the students), the very same public that is paying the bill through their taxes.  School districts need more freedom to develop a budget that can best meet local needs.  Forbidding districts from furloughing employees significantly diminishes that freedom;
  • Construction/Purchasing Reform – The well-documented added costs of prevailing wage, the antiquated competitive bid level requirement of $10,000 and above for any project and the inability to execute building contracts consistent with today’s generally accepted practices in the private sector, all create a significant disadvantage to our public schools. From budgets to bureaucracy, these types of mandates on operational practices handcuff local decision makers from adjusting processes to meet local needs and should be reformed immediately.

The above issues reflect a sampling of some of the areas wherein Pennsylvania’s public education system – and, subsequently our students – is being unnecessarily held back from achieving its full potential. The issues above don’t suggest that more money is the sole answer to local concerns, but rather that more flexibility and more trust in local decision making would go a long way to make our limited state and local funds work that much harder to achieve everyone’s goal of providing a comprehensive education network that is available and effective for all residents of the Commonwealth.

From a business perspective, our future depends on it.

Approved, as amended:                                Chair:                                    Date:
EducationCommittee                                      Diane Tyson                        May 13, 2011
Advocacy Council                                             Shari Franey                        May 13, 2011
Executive Committee                                       Peter Scudner                    May 17, 2011
Board of Directors                                            Peter Scudner                    May 17, 2011


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