Harrisburg – October 28, 2015 – At the request of state Sen. Vince Hughes (D-Phila.), the Senate Democratic Policy Committee today held a hearing on the devastating impact that the state’s 120-day budget impasse is having on schools across the state.
“While many of the budget dispute points remain unresolved, what is clear is that the consequences of this impasse are far-reaching,” said Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-Northampton), who chairs the committee. “This hearing gives lawmakers a sense of how schools are handling the funding shortfall, and what problems they’ll face if this stalemate continues to drag on.”
Hughes added, “A growing number of schools have been cornered into borrowing money and taking out credit lines just to keep their doors open. Hopefully, this hearing’s focus on this worsening statewide financial crisis will encourage greater urgency, cooperation and compromise in the ongoing budget negotiations.”
During the hearing, state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale testified that at least 27 school districts have taken out loans totaling more than $431 million. He projected that interest payments will total $30 million if the stalemate reaches mid-November.
Those who testified decried how the impasse has harmed students, depleted reserves and how taxpayers will be needlessly saddled with paying the interest on the growing number of loans and credit lines that schools are obtaining to keep their doors open.
Erie Public Schools Superintendent Jay Badams lamented that his district will need to borrow $30 million just to get through January.
“That’s $114,000 in wasted interest money that could have been used for so many badly needed educational expenses,” Badams said.
Dr. Joseph Roy, who serves as superintendent of the Bethlehem Area School District in Northampton County, added that “choices at the state level continue to hammer school districts.” He said the diversion of funds to charter and cyber schools and a “punitive” approach to public education has blown up school expenditures.
Dr. Rula Skezas, who serves as superintendent of the McKeesport Area School District in Allegheny County, noted that even if the district receives its proposed funding it would still fall short of what it received during the 2011 school year. She said McKeesport has taken out a $5 million line of credit to make it to December. She said the district has already eliminated 110 staff positions to try and make ends meet.
Hughes, who serves as Democratic chair of the Appropriations Committee, said public, charter and private schools are already reeling from years of being underfunded. He noted that the Philadelphia School District has already borrowed $275 million during the impasse. Fran Burns, who serves as chief operating officer for the School District of Philadelphia, testified that the district has struggled to contend with a “structural deficit.”
Lamenting the impact on local working families who fund schools through property taxes, Boscola pointed toward an educational survey conducted earlier this year showing that nearly 75 percent of districts were planning to impose property tax hikes, 30 percent were planning on making additional program cuts, and 41 percent were making more staff cuts. She said the state has withheld approximately $3 billion in school funds since the budget impasse began in July.
Joining Boscola and Hughes at the Capitol committee hearing were Senators John Blake (D-Lackawanna), Jim Brewster (D-Allegheny), Andrew Dinniman (D-Montgomery), Christine Tartaglione (D-Phila.) and Sean Wiley (D-Erie),
Those testifying included:
- The Honorable Eugene DePasquale
Pennsylvania Auditor General
- Fran Burns
Chief Operating Officer, School District of Philadelphia
- Joseph Gorham
Superintendent of Schools, Carbondale Area School District
- Dr. Joseph Roy
Superintendent of Schools, Bethlehem Area School District
- Dr. Jay D. Badams
Superintendent, Erie Public Schools
- Dr. Rula S. Skezas
Superintendent, McKeesport Area School District
- Marjorie Neff
Chair, School Reform Commission
- Anthony Pirrello
CEO, Montessori Regional Charter School of Erie, and Vice President of Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools
- Matt Przywara
Chief Financial and Operations Officer, School District of Lancaster
- Bill LaCoff
President, Pennsylvania School Boards Association
- Susan Gobreski
Education Voters of Pennsylvania
- Dr. Pearl English
School Nurse, School District of Philadelphia
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HARRISBURG, March 3, 2015 – In response to Gov. Tom Wolf’s just-proposed $29.8 billion budget for 2015-2016, state Sen. John Blake said he is looking forward to studying the details of the newly elected Democrat’s proposal.
“For four years, failed leadership in this state had us falling behind as our neighboring states invested in education and job growth and where they demonstrated a commitment to working-class citizens by raising the minimum wage,” Blake said following the governor’s budget address before a joint session of the General Assembly. “Gov. Wolf demonstrated today a necessary and a positive change-in-course for Pennsylvania.”
If enacted by the legislature, the governor’s budget would deliver $3.8 billion in property tax relief, restore the $1 billion that Gov. Tom Corbett cut from basic education, inject $1.75 billion for job creation and restore critically important social safety net programs.
In other words, according to Sen. Blake, Gov. Wolf is proposing what Senate Democrats have been championing since 2011.
“Four years of Republican trickledown economics have decimated our economy, our schools and our communities,” he said. “Major tax breaks to big business have failed to translate to jobs and we plummeted from eighth to 50th in job growth in four years. What remains is a structural deficit of more than $2 billion.
“The Corbett administration’s decision nine months ago to use gimmicks and one-time money transfers to plug last year’s deficit means the commonwealth cupboard is bare,” Blake said.
Under Gov. Wolf’s proposal, Pennsylvania would be able to cover the current deficit and increase spending by a moderate 2.7 percent through fair adjustments in our state’s tax policy, including the imposition of a new severance tax on the natural gas industry.
Blake also noted Gov. Wolf’s proposals to make important and necessary cuts in business taxes, including a significant reduction of the corporate net income tax and phasing out the regressive capital stock and franchise tax.
The governor also called for an increase in the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour.
“We have to fix the mess we’re in and it will take bold, decisive, comprehensive and necessary action. Simply treading water and making another set of bad short-term decisions is not acceptable,” Sen. Blake said. “We need to re-think our state’s position in the global economy and advance a spending plan that not only guarantees the quality of life for our citizens now but assures growth and prosperity for generations to come in this great commonwealth.”
Blake said he is looking forward to better understanding how the governor’s proposals and new policy initiatives will affect residents of his 22nd Senatorial District.
“I look forward to adding value in the negotiations for a balanced budget by June 30. Again, none of the choices we face are easy and nothing is free. We will need to balance the needs and concerns of a diverse state but the governor has boldly mapped a promising future. It is up to the General Assembly to find the way forward using his map,” Blake said.
To learn more about Sen. John Blake, follow him on his website or via Facebook.
HARRISBURG, June 18, 2014 – Legislation to dramatically expand how Pennsylvania’s Open Records Law applies to the four state-related universities – Pennsylvania State University, Temple University, the University of Pittsburgh and Lincoln University – was unanimously approved today by the Senate State Government Committee.
As amended by the State Government Committee, Senate Bill 444 will require Penn State, Temple, Pitt and Lincoln to create searchable, sortable and downloadable databases on their freely accessible public websites. The databases will include extensive budget, revenue and expenditure data; the number of employees and aggregated, non-personal employee data; and the number of students and aggregated, non-personal student data.
State-related universities will also be required to post information about contracts valued at $5,000 or more on Pennsylvania’s online contract database, and most of the universities will be required to report the top 200 employee salaries. State-related universities with fewer than 2,500 employees will continue to report the top 25 salaries, as required by the existing law.
“For the first time, the public will have easy online access to detailed budget and academic data for Penn State, Temple, Pitt and Lincoln,” said Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R-9), author of Pennsylvania’s Open Records Law and the prime sponsor of Senate Bill 444. “Given the level of public support that goes to these universities every year, it makes perfect sense to take this important step.”
“This bill will be another big win for taxpayers,” said Senate State Government Committee Chairman Lloyd Smucker (R-13). “In recent years, citizens have seen too much of the serious ethical problems and the scandals that secrecy is conducive to. In contrast, the Open Records Law has improved accountability and given the public a much better look at what their government is doing. That’s the sort of transparency we want to build on.”
“Under this amended Senate Bill 444, our state-related universities will be held accountable for every state dollar the institutions receive,” said Senator John Blake (D-22), who has been a strong advocate for expanding the law’s coverage of state-related universities. “This necessary improvement in the Open Records Law dramatically increases the amount of information subject to public scrutiny and enhances the ease with which citizens can obtain that information. I was glad to work with Senator Dominic Pileggi in achieving these important reforms.”
“This is an important step in providing greater transparency and accountability in how significant public funds are being spent,” said Senator Matt Smith (D-37), the Democratic Chairman of the State Government Committee. “This was a collaborative bipartisan effort to ensure that state tax dollars are best serving students of the commonwealth.”
The underlying bill includes additional improvements to the existing Open Records Law, such as ensuring that campus police departments are covered by the law just as local police departments are, clarifying that safety inspection reports are public, establishing a new fee structure for commercial requests, and creating a new section to address records requests made by inmates.
A separate amendment adopted today by the State Government Committee clarifies the news media’s exemption from the commercial request provisions, ensures that the Office of Open Records – even as a fully independent agency – will receive appropriate payroll and administrative support, and makes a number of smaller changes.
Senator Pileggi said he intends to continue work on the legislation through the summer. “Pennsylvania’s new Open Records Law is widely recognized as one of the best in the nation,” he said. “This bill makes a number of important and necessary changes, and it’s important to get them right.”
Erik Arneson (Senator Pileggi), firstname.lastname@example.org, 717-787-4712
Matt Parido (Senator Smucker), email@example.com, 717-787-6535
Luc Miron (Senator Blake), firstname.lastname@example.org, 717-787-6481
Lauren Fraley (Senator Smith), email@example.com, 717-787-5839 (cell 724-747-0692)
Carbondale, January 30, 2014 – Senate Democrats gathered in seven communities across Pennsylvania today to challenge Gov. Tom Corbett to produce a spending plan that is aligned with the needs of Pennsylvanians.
Sen. John Blake, Carbondale Mayor Justin Taylor and representatives from area economic development organizations gathered in Carbondale City Hall to highlight the negative impact of previous Corbett budgets and describe why the upcoming budget is so important.
“Pennsylvania’s state budget is an identification of priorities and a strategy for investment,” Sen. Blake said. “We can do better than what Gov. Corbett and his administration have provided.
Blake and Senate Democrats said their budget priorities reflect needs shared by all Pennsylvanians, including job creation, expansion of health care through Medicaid, increasing the minimum wage, repairing the social safety net and restoring education funds.
“Under Gov. Corbett’s leadership, Pennsylvania has fallen to the bottom in job creation and government efficiency, and we must do a better job of identifying policy priorities,” Blake said. “Senate Democrats have concrete plans to move the state forward and our payment method does not involve a broad-based tax increase.”
Senate Democrats said they will push for the following in this budget:
- Creating jobs by funding targeted water and sewer rehabilitation projects, strengthening school-to-work programs and expanding community economic zones throughout the state;
- Investing in education with a $300 million boost, bolstering funds for early education and committing to a long-term financing plan that restores funding;
- Increasing the state’s minimum wage to at least $9 per hour, indexing the wage to inflation and raising the tipped minimum wage;
- Expanding Medicaid and extending health care to 500,000 Pennsylvania families while generating budget savings of $400 million; and
- Repairing holes in the social safety net by using $85 million in Medicaid budget savings for human services programming such as drug, alcohol and mental health.
Sen. Blake said he realizes the investments and initiatives identified cost money so the Senate Democratic Caucus has devised a savings-and-revenue plan of more than $1.1 billion to fund the priorities.
“There is no question that there is budget latitude and savings for investing in jobs, health care, human services and our workforce,” Blake said. “Lack of resources should not be an excuse that the administration uses for inaction on key funding initiatives because we’ve proven that savings and revenues are available.”
Senate Democrats said a new direction is needed because the state has gone in reverse since Republican Tom Corbett became governor. Pennsylvania has gone from eighth in job creation to 48th nationwide and has a jobs deficit of more than 180,000 when compared with national economic growth rates.
In addition, Democrats pointed to a recent study of the fiscal health of states placing Pennsylvania 42nd.
“Unfortunately, Carbondale is a good example of a bad result caused by Corbett administration policies,” Blake said. “Even as the state’s economy was beginning to list, the commonwealth was supporting local community and economic development initiatives that created good jobs and helped downtowns revitalize and increase business.
“There has been zero effort by this administration to properly address local community problems or help companies grow and prosper. Years of high unemployment are the result of this lack of direction,” the senator said.
Ken Okrepkie, Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeast Pennsylvania’s Pocono Northeast manager, said his organization has wisely used state investments to help businesses grow and become established entities in their communities.
“The companies that received an investment from Ben Franklin generated over 140,000 jobs in the commonwealth,” Okrepkie said. “And not only do we create jobs; for every dollar invested, $3.60 is returned to the commonwealth. That is an impressive return on investment for the citizens of Pennsylvania.”
Other speakers joining Sen. Blake this morning included Paul Browne, executive director of the Carbondale Technology Transfer Center; Chris Haran, senior vice president and CIO at TMG Health; and Eric Esoda, executive director, Northeastern Pennsylvania Industrial Resource Center.
“We look forward to learning details of the governor’s policies and going through the budget in depth,” Sen. Blake said. “It is critical that we revise the spending plan to better reflect the shared priorities of the citizens of Pennsylvania.”
Senate Democrats said they will provide immediate reaction to the governor’s budget address following his scheduled speech to the General Assembly Feb. 4.
HARRISBURG, Nov. 8, 2013 — State Sen. John Blake announced today he is looking for an appointee to the Valley Forge Military Academy & College in suburban Philadelphia.
Valley Forge Military Academy & College partners with Sen. Blake and other Pennsylvania lawmakers to award one appointment from each legislative district to the two-year military academy in Wayne.
“This is a golden opportunity for a girl or boy in my district to get a head start in a career that is both honorable and dignified,” Blake said. “But entry into this program is very competitive.”
The Valley Forge Military Academy & College educates students in an academic and military environment to prepare them for a four-year college or university education. The accredited 78-year-old institution enrolls more than 300 cadets each year.
The school’s early commissioning program featured by Sen. Blake gives one student the opportunity to earn a military commission as second lieutenant in the U.S. Army after two years of attendance and participation.
To be considered as a Valley Forge Military Academy & College appointee, a student must carry a minimum 2.5 GPA, a combined SAT score of at least 1,000 (or 21 on the ACT), pass a Department of Defense medical exam, be at least 17 years old, and be a U.S. citizen “with good moral character.”
Applications for this appointment can be found in high school guidance offices or by calling Sen. Blake’s district office at 570-207-2881.