Hundreds of school district bookkeepers across Pennsylvania are breathing a sigh of relief this week.
The governor’s partial approval of a state spending plan last week means billions of dollars stoppered up by political gridlock are landing in school bank accounts. The state treasury has expedited the payment of $3.3 billion to schools, as well as county governments and social services organizations. Additional late payments are expected to follow in the next week or so.
“People were even on the phone trying to anticipate exactly when they would have access to the funds — not by the day, but by the hour,” said Jay Himes, director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials. “Because, literally, their local dollars were running out.”
From July to December, the funding drought caused by the state budget impasse had forced schools to borrow nearly $900 million.
The pain didn’t begin immediately in July. School districts were able to rely on local property tax revenue to pay their bills.
But at this point in the year, Himes said, they’ve received all the local revenue they’re going to get — they have no cushion to fall on if halted state funding sends them over a financial cliff.
Himes said his group would like to see a full year’s budget completed soon.
“We’re certainly hopeful this gets to be resolved in the next 60 days,” he said.
If it isn’t, Himes predicted that many school districts will be right back where they were last fall – desperate for money and contemplating shutdown.