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Pennsylvania Budget Freezes Funding for K-12 Education

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Funding for precollegiate education in Pennsylvania will be frozen during fiscal 1993, under a budget signed into law hours before the new fiscal year began July 1.

"I am signing this bill tonight not by choice, but by necessity,'' Gov. Robert P. Casey said in approving the $14-billion spending plan.

"The best that can be said about this budget is that it leaves programs and agencies operating and continues the orderly conduct of the business of the Commonwealth as the constitution requires,'' the Democratic Governor said.

In an election year, lawmakers clearly did not want a replay of last year's budget negotiations, which dragged on well beyond the start of the new fiscal year and produced a package of tax increases.

Instead, lawmakers this year provided modest relief to taxpayers by rolling back the personal-income-tax rate from 3.1 percent to 2.8 percent.

They also left many issues unresolved, including proposals to overhaul the welfare system and change the funding formula for public education. Moreover, the legislature authorized special-education funding for only six months of the coming school year.

Consequently, the Casey administration urged legislative leaders to reconsider the budget after the summer break and attempt to plug the holes before the session adjourns at the end of November.

'Dangerous' for Education

Under the terms of the budget, elementary and secondary education will receive $4.9 billion--the same amount as last year.

As a result of the continuing recession that has cut state revenues, school districts also will have to forgo an additional per-pupil subsidy--estimated at $125 million over all--that lawmakers had pledged during the waning days of budget negotiations last year.

Despite the funding freeze, K-12 education fared better than did higher education. The state's 14 public colleges and universities will be hit with 3.5 percent cuts, while funding was withdrawn from private institutions that the state has traditionally subsidized.

"It was dangerous being involved in education this year,'' said Tom Gentzel, the assistant executive director of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association.

Level funding "makes the equity problem in our state a lot worse,'' said Mr. Gentzel, who noted that the state's share of education funding has dropped to an estimated 37 percent from 40 percent in 1989-90.

A finance-equity lawsuit is pending, and House Democrats have contracted with school-finance experts for a study of education funding.

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