K-12 Education

Last week petitioners in Pennsylvania's school funding lawsuit filed a brief and affidavits refuting the claim made by the Republican leader of the PA Senate, Joe Scarnati, that the lawsuit was rendered moot because the state adopted a school funding formula in 2016. KRC Labor Economist Mark Price was one of the partners who filed an affidvit about the growing funding gaps between low- and high-wealth districts. 

 

A new statewide poll shows that a lack of state funding for public education is at odds with the priorities of Pennsylvanians of all political persuasions.

The General Assembly has begun working on the budget for 2018-19 based on Governor Wolf’s budget proposal. So, this is a good time to look at the governor’s proposals in light of the recent history of funding for education in our state.

Governor Wolf’s budget would finally restore (in nominal dollars) the deep cuts to K-12 classroom funding made by Governor Corbett in 2011-12, which is a noteworthy accomplishment. However, inadequate funding and deep inequities still remain in our school funding system. Also, Governor Wolf continues to prioritize early education funding. His proposal this year, if enacted, would nearly double Pre-K funding since 2014-15. A signature focus of Governor Wolf this year is a substantial investment in Career and Technical Education and workforce development, with the aim of providing high school and post-secondary youth with critical STEM and other technical skills that can lead to good paying jobs.

While the details are different, the basic theme of our analysis of the governor’s budget proposal this year is essentially unchanged from last year and the year before. Once again, Governor Wolf has presented another austere budget that, within the political limits of Harrisburg, makes progress on issues critical to Pennsylvanians. But because of those political limits – and through no fault of the governor – it does not make fast enough progress.

Last year, Mayor Jim Kenney boldly called for the School Reform Commission (SRC) to be disbanded and for control over our schools to be returned to the city. In doing so, he took on the responsibility to pay for schools at a time when growing deficits are expected over the next five years. 

We at PBPC have long argued that the education of Philadelphians shouldn't be a responsibility of the city alone. Not just Philadelphia but the entire commonwealth suffers because the state share of education funding has fallen from almost 50% to less than 35% of total funding.  

Despite Pennsylvania’s structural deficit and Governor Wolf’s proposal to cut tax credits by $100 million in 2017-18, lawmakers are currently considering expanding by 44%, or $55 million, two programs that already provide $125 million in taxpayer-funded vouchers to attend religious or other private schools. As well as diverting additional revenues from the General Fund without a revenue source in sight, this expansion is problematic because of a complete lack of financial and educational accountability within the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC) program and the part of the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program that funds taxpayer-funded vouchers. Two of many issues with these voucher programs, revealed in this report, are the extent to which curricula at schools attended by taxpayer-subsidized scholarships teach creationism and present the bible as literal truth in history and other subjects; and the extent to which tax-credit dollars, while marketed as serving low-income students in low-performing school districts, subsidize exclusive private schools catering mostly to the very affluent.

In his budget address, Governor Wolf observed that Pennsylvania faces a choice of two paths. Taking one path would require us to deal with the reality of our structural deficit and raise revenues to close it. It would enable government to continue to meet its responsibilities to educate our children, serve those who need our help, protect the environment and encourage economic growth. Taking the other path would require us to accept devastating cuts to education and health and human services.

The ideas in this document were compiled by the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center based on our own work and that of our partner, the Keystone Research Center, and that of advocates on many issues. The names of our partners are in our letter to the Governor and the members of the General Assembly.

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