Opinion

Their View: PlanCon problems add to district woes

That noise you hear is school leaders scrambling to plan for the possibility of another moratorium on school construction projects, while trying to build their budgets for next school year. We encourage state leaders to support safe learning environments and fix the funding process, rather than complicating local budgets with delays.

School leaders expect annual uncertainty without a formula to distribute the state’s basic education funding. However, they were surprised to find their situations even more complicated this spring when Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget proposal included a new moratorium on additions to the state’s PlanCon program for school construction. If approved, it would go into effect July 1.

Last year, the General Assembly took a major step forward by lifting a PlanCon moratorium imposed by former Gov. Tom Corbett. Another PlanCon moratorium would exacerbate school district infrastructure problems, further complicate district budgeting, and negatively impact classrooms in need of repair statewide. A new moratorium also would mean the state is going back on its word again.

The state committed to providing partial reimbursements for school construction. Schools depend on state contributions to new construction and repair projects. A new moratorium on PlanCon projects also could mean reimbursements stop with no way to know when or if reimbursements are coming for costs already incurred.

Rep. Seth Grove has proposed a new PlanCon reform bill (House Bill 210), which deserves a vote in the House, and the companion bill (Senate Bill 694) deserves equal consideration in the Senate.

When a school district begins a construction project, it must navigate the state’s outdated 11-step application process. Efficiencies must be made to streamline the process and reimbursement payments are owed to districts that moved forward with maintenance, repairs and new construction in good faith in prior years.

Last legislative session, the General Assembly provided an additional $10 million for PlanCon reimbursements and included provisions in the Fiscal Code to allow the state Department of Education to distribute up to $70 million in reimbursement payments. These steps have had a positive impact on the PlanCon program.

According to the state’s latest data, more than 50 new projects have been approved for reimbursement since last year and nearly $40 million in payments were distributed to school districts for newly approved projects. The actions taken by lawmakers last year are working.

State leaders must continue working together on solutions. Don’t put off the PlanCon problem to only watch it grow again.

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