GOP Lawmaker: Give $250M Subsidy for Rich Horse Owners to Rich School Districts Instead

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One of the more inequitable and depressing things that’s been happening during the Corbett administration is that we’ve been giving $250 million a year in subsidies to rich horse owners while gutting our schools.

The Race Horse Development Fund (RHDF) takes $250 million of casino slot revenues and allocates it toward “enhancing” prize money at horse race tracks because ??!?1??

When Tom Corbett last proposed to decrease the subsidy we’re lavishing on rich horse owners by a couple million, special horse interests shrieked that this was like “rape,” because obviously.

Horrible Democrat Lisa Boscola agreed that horse pork has a stronger claim than school children on this $250 million.

The good news is that this pot of money is increasingly seen as in play, because who honestly has that many race horse owners in their district? Republican Rep. Todd Stephens has introduced a bill that would take the $250 million and spend it on education instead.

Sounds good, right?

But then! it turns out that Rep. Stephens only wants to spend the money on certain school districts. Rich districts!

Rep. Todd Stephens (R-North Wales) today proposed gutting the state’s Race Horse Development Fund in favor of increasing state funding to school districts that receive less than 35 percent of their funding from the Commonwealth.

Who receives less than 35% of their funding from the Commonwealth?

For instance, in two of the more affluent districts, Montgomery County’s Lower Merion and Springfield, state funding per student amounts to roughly 10 percent, according to 2011-2012 state figures.

In districts with less affluent households and smaller tax bases, state spending is much higher per student. The highest percent of state spending per student is in the Chester-Upland district, where roughly 78 percent comes from state coffers. In Philadelphia, it is nearly 49 percent.

Every district in Montgomery County and 12 of the 13 districts in Bucks County would receive funding through Stephens’ proposed Local Effort Equalization Fund (LEEF).

Eleven of Chester County’s 12 districts and 12 of Delaware County’s 15 district would receive funding through LEEF.

The only local districts that would not receive LEEF funding are the Chester-Upland, Southeast Delco, William Penn, Oxford Area, Bristol Borough and Philadelphia districts.

So once again, the story of education funding the past 3 years is that the Republicans scrapped the fair education funding formula we had that liberals won in the last few years of the Rendell administration, and that socked poorer districts with much larger cuts than they would have incurred had the Republicans distributed the cuts based on the fair formula.

So who is really hurting here? Is it rich kids in Lower Merion and Springfield? Well no, their students are enjoying the highest per-student spending in the Commonwealth:

Moshannon School District, Clearfield County — $31,544
Springfield Township School District, Montgomery County — $29,173
Greater Johnstown School District, Cambria County — $27,412
Lower Merion School District, Montgomery County — $27,041
Austin Area School District, Potter County — $24,513

By contrast, kids in Philadelphia get about $11,000 per student. Less than half!

Not only do these districts not need any more help from state government, it defies moral logic that they receive any state funding at all.

Rep. Stephens is right to look to the $250 million Race Horse Development Fund as a revenue stream for education, but not to give an unnecessary stealth tax cut to the Commonwealth’s richest households. We should put it all into Basic Education Funding and distribute it to all 500 districts using a fair, accurate, and transparent funding formula.

(via Sam Wood and Brian X. McCrone)

This entry was posted in Budget, Education, State House.

12 Responses to GOP Lawmaker: Give $250M Subsidy for Rich Horse Owners to Rich School Districts Instead

  1. Sean Kitchen says:

    Todd Stephens is an asshole. I remember being at a PASSHE rally right after Corbett presented his budget to cut the SSHE by 50%, and Stephens got up to the podium and told everyone “well….we really need to tighten our belt and tough decisions have to be made here.”

  2. Adam Lang says:

    “One of the more inequitable and depressing things that’s been happening during the Corbett administration is that we’ve been giving $250 million a year in subsidies to rich horse owners while gutting our schools.”

    Pretty sure that Horse Race Fund was created by Rendell’s casino legislation, not Corbett.

    Also, Keystone Politics hasn’t been very good at pointing out that Rendell’s Fair Funding Formula only applied to “new money”. So when the federal stimulus dollars went away, of course it affected poorer districts more because the poorer districts are the ones that go most of the money in the federal stimulus under that plan. The funding formula would not have prevented that because the budgeted money before the formula was passed wouldn’t have been affected.

    To take Lower Merion for example, they get about what, $3 million in basic education funding from the State, compared to their almost $200 million budget? There is no money for the state to take back from them because they predominantly self fund their schools.

    As for the Stephens legislation, I am not familiar with it, but yes, if he is advocating to send more state money to the districts that are perfectly fine self funding, then it is a bad idea.

    • Jon Geeting says:

      I’m not saying that the race horse pork was a new development under Corbett. But like the decision to cut state education aid based on the electoral map instead of the fair funding formula, the decision to spare the horse pork while cutting schools was also a choice the Republicans actively made.

      They could have plugged the cuts into the formula, even though it originally only applied to new money. They could have made the choice to do that. If they believed that the formula was a better descriptor of who needs state aid the most, then they would have let that guide their cuts. But the conservatives don’t believe that, and like Rep. Stephens, are more interested in tax cuts for Lower Merion.

      • Adam Lang says:

        I know you didn’t say the pork was from Corbett. Just pointing out that it seems the criticism for Corbett in that regard is that he didn’t fix another one of Rendell’s screw ups. Hell, look at the fight Corbett had to go through to fix Rendell’s transportation funding screw up.

        I’m not sure what “plugging the cuts into the formula” means. Like I pointed out, those rich districts are getting about nothing from the state to begin with. They got pretty much nothing from the stimulus money, so there was nothing to take back.

        • Jon Geeting says:

          Plugging the cuts into the formula means distributing the cuts as if the formula had applied to all the state spending. I’m aware that the very richest districts don’t get a lot of state spending. But there are districts who get more and could get by with less in order to target the money to the poorest kids.

          And that’s assuming that there should’ve been any cuts to funding levels in the first place, which I don’t agree with.

          • Adam Lang says:

            But the formula didn’t work that way.

            And for the record, Corbett supporting Bernie O’Neill’s legislation is to actually apply a formula to the WHOLE funding pot, not just “new funding” like Rendell.

          • Jon Geeting says:

            I know that the original formula didn’t work that way. My argument is that, for the first time ever, Corbett and the Republicans could have applied the formula to original money, and then cut the topline number. They made a choice not to prioritize cuts that way, like you are saying about how Philly Council doesn’t prioritize, but that would have been more fair, and they should be held accountable for not doing that.

          • Jon Geeting says:

            That’s pretty good, but isn’t the O’Neill legislation to study a new formula, rather than base it on the old one?

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