Not to begrudge Hazleton Area School District its great good fortune in getting an extra $1 million in state money through an unusually-specific “supplement.” The cash-strapped district certainly can use the money. But then, so can every other district in Luzerne County and most in Pennsylvania.
Which would be the point. As reported in The Times Leader last week, when Gov. Tom Corbett signed the 2013-14 state budget the education portion had a few quirks … 12, to be exact, as in 12 “supplements” that had the veneer of being available to many school districts but turned out to be allotted to a select few — as in 21 of 500 districts.
That was a bit more than $30 million handed out to a handful of schools under titles like “small school district supplement,” “small rural school district supplement,” and “third class county school district supplement.” That last was the boon Hazleton received.
As the story noted, the title suggests many districts could get some of the money. There are 154 districts in the state’s 12 third class counties (a designation determined by population). But to qualify for a piece of the $1 million, a district also had to have a state-calculated “Aid Ratio” that fell in a narrow range, which winnowed the qualified districts down to 24.
Still, that 24 included six Luzerne County districts. But five of them - as well as 18 of those 24 that are in other third class counties - did not meet the last requirement based on enrollment. Thus the title of the “supplement” — third class county school districts — sounds fairly expansive and egalitarian, while the reality is that it seems quite clearly tailored to assure the full $1 million went to Hazleton Area.
That contradiction — a “supplement” title that sounds inclusive but benefits only a few — was the rule, not the exception in this budget gimmickry. All of the money for six of the 12 supplements went to single districts, with many going to two districts and a few to three to five districts.
Thus it turned out that the rural school district supplement” of $500,000 was given entirely to Philipsburg-Osceola Area School District in Clearfield County. Really? No other rural school district met the criteria to earn a piece of that pie?
And the $500,000 “small school district supplement” went entirely to Penns Valley Area School District in Centre County. If this were only about school district size by enrollment (the requirement was fewer than 1,600 students), that $500,000 would have been divvied among 166 districts, 152 of which (including Northwest Area in Luzerne County) are smaller than Penns Valley Area. But of course, as in the supplement Hazleton Area nabbed, there were other criteria that only Penns Valley met.
This is no reflection on the districts that got these “supplement” boons. After two years of Corbett cutting or flat-lining state education money, they probably deserve every scrap they could sweep up.
This is a reflection on Corbett and his legislature. They have bragged three years in a row about passing a budget “on time,” even though each year they met the midnight, June 30, deadline by hours, if not minutes.
But they have turned the education budget into a bizarre cobbling of piecemeal preferential treatment masquerading as broad-based supplements.
Public education is about giving all children a chance to start adulthood on an equal footing. This funding system makes a sham of that promise.