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Third Time’s the Harm: PA Budget Leaves School Construction In the Lurch Three Years Running

As reported by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the Pennsylvania budget will contain a moratorium on construction spending by school districts for the third straight year, meaning schools in need of repair will have to find solutions without state aid. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett’s construction cuts began in 2012, when he cut funding to new applications, thus stalling 354 projects in various stages of construction and capital across the Commonwealth. The state’s Department of Education has estimated that it would take at least $1.6 billion to reimburse all projects.

Hannah Barrick, Advocacy Director for the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials, told the Tribune-Review, “School districts do not enter into construction projects lightly,” adding, “They do so with careful planning, and only once they’re sure of what they can expect from the state. So to go through that long process and find out the money you planned for is indefinitely unavailable puts everyone in a pretty huge pinch.”

The state GOP is now deflecting the blame for Corbett’s construction cuts by suggesting bureaucratic red tape and a lack of transparency are the root cause. They are also taking aim at PlanCon, hoping to make permanent changes to the system:

The decades-old system, an acronym for Planning and Construction Workbook, requires state approval of construction projects at 11 stages, including repeat submissions of documents and bid specifications. At least one copy must arrive on microfilm. The lengthy process covers everything from preliminary planning and design to project refinancing.

Once debt is determined, schools seek bids, begin construction, and apply for reimbursement for some of their projected costs. Wealthier districts usually receive a small share — 10 percent or less — and lower-income districts collect a larger state share.

Eller said the Education Department estimates that 350 projects are awaiting funding approval and 2,450 should be drawing state funds.

With education and jobs at the forefront of the political conversation in the leadup to the November election — and polls showing Corbett currently being trounced by Democratic challenger Tom Wolf — this story is not likely to sway undecided voters in the Republican’s direction. These cuts may appease Corbett’s dwindling base, but they are also a microcosm of the hallmark policies of his time in power: Uninspired, unoriginal, and unsuccessful.

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