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APTOPIX Pennsylvania Budget Cosby

Comedian Bill Cosby finds nothing funny about cutting school funding.

Public education can make the difference between success and failure in life for many children, and cutting school funding makes the task more difficult, Cosby said Wednesday at a packed rally in the Capitol Rotunda in Harrisburg.

“No more cuts!” Cosby declared at the beginning and end of a short speech that was part of a celebration marking the steady improvements in Pennsylvania students’ test scores in math and reading.

The Philadelphia native, a well-known education advocate, joined Gov. Ed Rendell and educators at the event designed to put pressure on the state Senate’s Republican majority to support more money for public schools.

Cosby, who has homes in Massachusetts, New York and California, acknowledged he has not kept up with Pennsylvania’s clash over state spending between the Democratic governor and the Senate GOP. But he said similar disputes are common nationally and public schools are too often caught in the crossfire.

“Ladies and gentlemen, is it that we don’t like children? I mean, what did these people ever do to you that you want to cut? They’re moving on a course that is very, very favorable,” said Cosby, decked out in a yellow T-shirt, red baseball cap, sunglasses and sandals. “Why would you want to take money from the success story and pull back on it so that they will start to enter prison?”

He said taxpayers get their money’s worth from their investment in public schools. He said it costs less than $5,000 a year to educate a young person but $33,000 a year to incarcerate someone.

School funding in Pennsylvania is among the many spending items still up in the air seven weeks after the July 1 deadline for a new budget. The state faces a multibillion-dollar revenue shortfall and is operating under a bare-bones budget pending a compromise between Rendell, who wants to raise taxes, and GOP lawmakers, who don’t.

The Senate GOP wants to roll back the state share of school subsidies and use federal economic stimulus money to keep the subsidy level at last year’s $5 billion — freeing up nearly $730 million for other programs.

Rendell advocates maintaining last year’s subsidy level entirely with state money and tapping the federal funds to provide local districts with an additional $300 million or more this year and next year.

Erik Arneson, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, said additional federal stimulus money will ensure that local districts see higher subsidies under either plan, although Rendell’s is more generous.

“I have nothing but respect for Mr. Cosby, but our members are much more interested in what their constituents have to say than in what Mr. Cosby believes,” he said.

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