Approximately $3 billion in state education aid has been withheld since the start of the new fiscal year on July 1. As a result, school districts have been forced to borrow over $430 million in order to cover expenses and operational costs.
As the longest budget impasse in Pennsylvania’s history dominates the political debates in Harrisburg, Commonwealth citizens rightly worry that the partisan squabbling will have serious, long-term consequences.
The reverberations of the gridlock are felt far and wide, from social services organizations to schools.
By now, it has been exhaustively documented how the myriad of ways the budget impasse is impacting Pennsylvania’s public schools. Approximately $3 billion in state education aid has been withheld since the start of the new fiscal year on July 1. As a result, school districts have been forced to borrow over $430 million in order to cover expenses and operational costs.
As painful as the budget stalemate has been for public schools, it has also been devastating for the 254,000 children enrolled in Pennsylvania’s extensive non-public school network.
Non-public schools are contending with how to teach their children without having received the textbooks, instructional materials and equipment that the state budget provides them. They have been forced to operate while lacking the auxiliary services under “Act 89,” including reading and math remediation, and speech and language therapy. Beyond these gaps, an even greater menace looms.
The Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC) program provide millions of dollars each year in scholarships for low- and middle-income families across Pennsylvania. For many non-public schools, including Jewish day schools, this funding is indispensable — with countless students receiving scholarships through the two tax credit programs.
If the state budget is not passed prior to the end of the calendar year, there is a real possibility that non-public schools will lose an entire year of EITC and OSTC funding. With the EITC and OSTC funding levels at $100 million and $50 million respectively, the loss of this funding stream for non-public schools would be catastrophic. Schools may be forced to close their doors and our students will be yet another casualty of the budget stalemate.
We recognize that there are a number of monumental issues at the center of the budget debate, including tax increases and pension reform. However, no matter how substantial those issues may seem, Gov. Wolf and state lawmakers cannot believe any of those topics outweigh our children and their education.
The sad reality is that our schools and our children have become collateral damage to a partisan budget battle. The impact on Pennsylvania’s non-public schools and the quarter-million children who are educated in them is tangible and terrifying. Simply put, our schools and our students cannot afford to be deprived of these critical educational dollars.
We are extraordinarily grateful for the array of programs and services that our state representatives have instituted over the years in recognition of the importance of Pennsylvania’s non-public schools, and which facilitate the quality education that they provide to so many children throughout the Commonwealth. However, the present budget situation is unpardonable, and the Governor and Pennsylvania General Assembly need to act now, before it is too late.
Our schools and our students need the textbooks they have not yet gotten. They need the remedial services they have not yet received. They desperately need the EITC and OSTC funds they have not yet obtained. The time for talk is over; it is now time for action.
Until the budget stalemate gets resolved and the education funding for all of Pennsylvania’s children is restored, Harrisburg is essentially imperiling our students’ educational opportunities.
Let’s get this done, and quickly. Our children’s futures depend on it.
N. Aaron Troodler is an attorney and the Pennsylvania Regional Director for the OU Advocacy Center, which is the non-partisan public policy arm of the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish organization, representing nearly 1,000 congregations nationwide.