Now under Senate consideration, House Bill 2124 would greatly streamline the arduous 11-step Planning and Construction Workbook process by which the commonwealth reimburses local school districts for a portion of approved school construction costs.
PlanCon has been part of the school code and state regulation for decades. The process is lengthy and requires the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s approval at multiple steps as a district proceeds with a project.
The proposed legislation would reduce the process to five steps and would even allow for electronic submission of paperwork, eliminating the current requirement to submit documents via a combination of printed forms and microfilm. A modernization of this process is clearly overdue.
Just recently lifted, a moratorium on PlanCon funding had been in place for several years. Before the moratorium, many school districts undertook significant construction or renovation projects for which debt has been issued, contracts have been entered into, and construction has begun — in some cases, even completed — all with department approval and under the reasonable expectation that districts would receive state reimbursement.
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With the lack of funding for projects in the PlanCon pipeline, and districts waiting multiple years after project completion with no reimbursement in sight, a debt is owed to the local school district taxpayers who are currently footing the bill.
HB 2124 would also allow school districts that began construction projects during the moratorium to remain eligible for state reimbursement.
Since the percentage of reimbursement that a district receives is a function of district “wealth,” the failure of the commonwealth to fulfill its obligation has had the greatest impact on our neediest districts, which often lack the means of raising the money necessary to undertake needed construction projects without state dollars.
Poorer districts may receive as much as 30 to 50 percent reimbursement from the state, while wealthier districts receive a smaller proportion. (For the current State College high school project, we would hope to receive $5 million-$6 million if full-funding for PlanCon is restored.)
Further, the lack of state reimbursement has negatively impacted the commonwealth’s economy. The recently lifted moratorium had a chilling effect on jobs across the state at a time when Pennsylvania’s economy was trying to get back on its feet.
Looking forward, many school districts will continue to delay projects until there is guarantee that the commonwealth will meet its reimbursement obligations.
The state continues to ignore the tremendous need for school building projects, and in so doing, is failing to uphold its obligation to support a thorough and efficient system of public education, while potentially jeopardizing the health and safety of students and staff who may be forced to attend school in decades-old buildings with failing mechanical systems, poor heating, cooling and ventilation, leaking roofs, or that lack ADA compliance.
Please ask your legislators to support HB 2124, and restore full-funding to PlanCon.