A major part of the 2015-16 budget, which became law last week without Gov. Tom Wolf’s signature, is determining how to allocate basic education funding to help to restore the devastating education cuts by the previous administration and the legislature in 2011 while making Pennsylvania’s funding for schools more equitable. But first, let’s take a look back to when the school crisis in Pennsylvania began.
What happened to school funding beginning in 2011?
In short? Republicans cut $1 billion from education.
The effect? During that time, the state failed to fulfill its fundamental responsibility of funding our schools. This led to massive staff reductions, the elimination of academic programs, and soaring property taxes in more than 90 percent of districts. At the same time, student achievement levels fell across the board.
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Where do we stand now?
While Wolf allowed the 2015-16 budget to become law, he vetoed the accompanying fiscal code bill. He did this, in part, because it directed the commonwealth to borrow up to $2,500,000,000 for reimbursements for school construction projects — that’s money that was never appropriated in the Republican budget.
They also did not include any funding to make the payments on that debt. Further, because of Pennsylvania’s growing structural deficit and Republicans’ failure to address their own fiscal gimmicks and irresponsibility, the state cannot go to the bond market to borrow because of its current status.
A temporary restoration formula
Only 4 percent of Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts have seen their 2010-2011 funding fully restored, and the state remains more than $370 million short from getting to that point. As Wolf has said over and over again, that is simply unacceptable.
In a perfect world, the Republican-led legislature would publicly acknowledge the fiscal realities of where we stand, and pass a budget with recurring revenues (instead of more one-time fixes) that will fully restore the $1 billion in education cuts. They would also enact a funding formula to help ensure access to a quality education no longer depends on a child’s ZIP code. Unfortunately, that was not the reality in 2015-16.
So this week, the state Department of Education will disburse money to schools from the 2015-16 budget to continue the restoration of the most essential and significant components of the severe education funding cuts suffered under the previous administration, and begin to implement the bipartisan basic education funding formula approved in June.
What happens from here?
The new fair funding formula cannot truly be fair until all of our schools are made whole again. Wolf remains hopeful Republican leaders will put politics aside and work with him to pass the 2016-17 budget to adequately and equitably invest in Pennsylvania’s schools.
Megan Healey is deputy press secretary for Gov. Tom Wolf.