Morning Must Reads: New Budget Guidelines Envision Even More Cuts Next Year and a New Voter ID Debuts

Less than two months into the new fiscal year, the Corbett administration is out with internal budgetary guidelines for the 2013-14 fiscal year — and, you guessed it, more cuts are on the menu.

The administration cites declining federal funds and increased mandatory state expenses, including higher costs for health care and prisons. The new guidelines specifically tell state departments and agencies that if they lose federal funding, they should not request additional state funding to offset the loss.

Sharon Ward of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center asks in a story by the PA Independent whether that blanket approach is wise.

“This administration has a track record of proposing budgets that are more fiscally conservative than necessary, then coming back later to find the money is really there,” Ward said.

She said the expected increases in Medicaid costs could be lessened if the economy picks up, and warned against giving away potential revenue in the form of tax credits, a policy the Corbett Administration has pursued on several fronts

Despite some positive signs in the first half of the year, the state economy seems to have stumbled during the summer, as unemployment in Pennsylvania climbed from 7.4 percent in May to 7.9 percent in July.

In January, the Independent Fiscal Office projected 1.6 percent growth in the state’s economy during 2012 and 2.4 percent in 2013.

It estimated unemployment in Pennsylvania would remain above 7 percent into 2014.

A new type of photo ID for voting in the fall election, known as the Pennsylvania Department of State ID, is making its debut this week. The state's new strict Voter ID Law requires voters to show certain types of photo IDs in order to cast a ballot. The new ID is intended for voters who are having difficulty obtaining a traditional photo ID from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. Sharon Ward is again quoted in a report from Fox 43 in Harrisburg.

These cards are necessary for people who can't produce enough information, mainly a birth certificate, to be eligible for a license or non-license photo ID. But several groups are worried with just two and a half months until the election, there is misinformation in the process.

"We found that that was very difficult in about 30 percent of the cases. People were told incorrectly that they would have to pay for an ID that they should have gotten for free," said Sharon Ward, with the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center.

Groups opposing the voter ID law feel that the process will disenfranchise elderly, minority and young voters. A recent study from the Department of Transportation showed over 700,000 potential voters in Pennsylvania don't have the proper ID to vote in November.

Finally, the Easton Area School District, like many districts across the commonwealth, is doing the best it can to maintain educational programs after two years of deep state budget cuts that have cost 135 jobs, including 72 teachers. And it is doing so by leaning on teachers and staff to do more, but an expert says students could end paying the price for that approach.

To prevent middle-school class sizes from ballooning, the district is maximizing teacher schedules. The daily period when teaching teams met to strategize was eliminated so they can teach an extra period each day. Teachers will have to use time before or after school to meet, according to the district...

George White, a Lehigh University professor and one of the nation's leading experts on middle school education, doubts the district will get the results it wants.

The period for strategizing is the heart and soul of team teaching, White said. It's when teachers make sure they aren't giving students too many tests on the same day and identify trends in student performance and behavior.

"Ultimately what happens when you eliminate that planning time for teams is that kids suffer because we don't coordinate and manage the time of the instructional day in a more effective way," White said....

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