Amid budget woes, consider myth of education funding

As the state Legislature and Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration struggle to fashion a budget for 2017-18 that makes sense, there is a strong possibility that the funding allotment for public education will eventually become a major talking point.

And there is an equal possibility that “cuts” in education funding will be the crying towel that many may lean on to swing the budget conversation toward a larger, not smaller, state budget.

But these are the facts:

• Total school district spending in the state exceeded $28 billion in 2016-17 and has grown by $3.5 billion, or 14.3 percent, since 2012.

• The average Pennsylvania public school receives more than $16,500 per student, according to the state Department of Education, a 16-percent growth over the past four years.

• That amount makes Pennsylvania 9th highest in the nation in per student funding.

Clearly, it is a myth that Pennsylvania does not support its public schools with adequate funding.

In fact, it is well above the national average.

And spending on public education by the state has grown well above the rate of inflation in recent years.

We appreciate the support of public education should be a top priority for the state budget.

But we don’t want to hear in the days ahead that public education funding is an untouchable item in the difficult discussions that center on controlling state spending to limit the tax pain involved in a budget solution.

Because everyone supports public education – or should – the myth of inadequate funding is a convenient crutch for those who don’t want to address education spending in the context of the entire state budget.

But that’s exactly what should be done in the days ahead.

Don’t mistake this as an anti-education stance.

It’s just a call for the entire budget to be considered when the Legislature is trying to thread the needle between responsible spending, attention to all state priorities and tax sanity.