Our opinion: State vs. local control

Gov. Corbett and the state General Assembly aren’t happy with the way school districts handle the basic education subsidy they receive from the state.

The governor hasn’t provided many specifics of his unhappiness, and the General Assembly – to its credit – has avoided going off half-cocked and simply agreed to create a commission to look into the manner in which local schools and school districts are provided state education funding.

In general, the state takes into consideration the financial health of a district based on its ability to support itself through local property taxes. Also, generally speaking, it is more rural districts with limited property tax bases that are the beneficiaries. There are glaring exceptions to that generality, however. First among them is Philadelphia, a city with a huge tax base whose school district is currently $100 million in the red.

The governor and the legislature are rightfully concerned about places like Philadelphia and a few others where expenditures far exceed revenues. As Philadelphia goes begging for more money from Harrisburg, the folks who provide the state basic subsidy to the City of Brotherly Love want to be sure the money Philadelphia is getting for its schools now is being spent wisely.

Keep in mind that public school systems in Pennsylvania, all 501 of them, are governed and directed by locally elected school boards. Those boards are already accountable to the state and federal education departments for a broad range of programming mandates.

And, their local funding streams are dictated by state law. With the addition of Act 1, wherein local districts are limited in raising local property taxes above a threshold without first gaining voter approval, there are several layers of oversight already in place.

There may need to be more oversight.

However, the commission’s job will be complicated by weighing the tenet of local school control with the state’s interest in making sure its tax dollars are spent wisely.

We have already seen the lean toward eroding local control on zoning and land use issues by the General Assembly and this governor, with respect to the drilling industry.

Are we seeing the early signs of an extension of that trend?