Burns calls on governor to fund Cambria schools

Lion’s share of new $200 million goes to Philadelphia; local districts shortchanged

EBENSBURG, April 7 – State Rep. Frank Burns, D-Cambria, today called on Gov. Tom Wolf to fund all school districts at levels called for in 2015-16 state budget legislation, instead of shepherding the lion’s share of $200 million in new funds to Philadelphia.

Burns said Wolf, in doling out state basic education subsidy and Ready to Learn Block grant money, shortchanged 11 Cambria County school districts by nearly $600,000, ignoring levels called for by the legislation. The average cut among the county’s 12 school districts is over 30 percent.

It’s a pattern that played out and has angered lawmakers in other parts of Pennsylvania as well, Burns said, as Wolf directed $76.8 million – a full 38 percent of the new funds – to Philadelphia. The governor is sending another $16.3 million to the Chester-Upland School District and $7.5 million to Pittsburgh.

“The governor has unilaterally decided to send a little more than half of that $200 million in new education funding to those three urban school districts,” Burns said. “They’re getting that money at the expense of school districts like those in Cambria County and elsewhere, which the governor has decided will get less than spelled out in House Bills 1801 and 1327.”

Only the Penn Cambria School District, which is getting 2 percent more money under the governor’s distribution plan, escaped the new-money decreases dictated by Wolf that range from a whopping 91-percent cut in Westmont Hilltop School District to an 8-percent cut in Ferndale Area School District, Burns said.

The percentage losses imposed by Wolf on other Cambria County school districts are: Blacklick Valley, 40 percent; Cambria Heights, 34 percent; Central Cambria, 21 percent;  Conemaugh Valley, 20 percent; Forest Hills, 28 percent; Greater Johnstown, 18 percent; Northern Cambria, 27 percent; Portage Area, 17 percent; and Richland, 71 percent.

“With these cuts, the governor just made it harder for anyone, Democrat or Republican, to convince people in Cambria County that he’s pro-education,” Burns said. “We’re left to wonder, ‘Does he want us to vote to raise state taxes so he can divert even more education money to Philadelphia?’”

As one of the 13 House Democrats who in March compromised with Republicans on a no-tax-hike budget that increased school funding by $200 million to finally get the 2015-16 budget done, Burns said the widespread shortchanging of school districts across Pennsylvania only creates further alienation and distrust between the governor and members of the legislature in both parties.