One Win, Many Losses and Finally A Finished State Budget

On Friday last week, Governor Wolf announced that the Fiscal Code, the final piece of budget legislation for 2015-2016, would become law without his signature. This brings the 2015-2016 budget to a close.

The Win

The Fiscal Code contains language that distributes new state funding for schools through the bipartisan Basic Education Funding Commission’s (BEFC) funding formula and brings to an end the era of powerful lawmakers cutting backroom deals to dole out new funding to schools. It is a very positive step forward that Pennsylvania has enacted a formula that will allocate new school funding based on current student and school district data.

The Losses

All schools lost.

A group of hardliners from the PA House rose up and refused to allow a final vote in December on the compromise budget, which was supported by a bipartisan majority of lawmakers. This compromise budget would have provided a significant new investment of over $370 million to schools; the Republican budget that became law without Governor Wolf’s signature provided an inadequate $200 million increase.  

Click this snazzy link from our friends at Keystone Research to compare how much your district lost with the Republican budget vs. the compromise budget.

Public school children lost.

The formula is only as good as the money that flows through it and the Republican budget of 2015-2016 provided a woefully inadequate $200 million increase in funding to schools this year. If lawmakers invest just $200 million/year through the formula, children in their cribs today will graduate before all schools in PA receive adequate funding.

The Graveyard of a Lost Year of Pennsylvania Education, a recent analysis from the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, is a sobering read that details the consequences students have suffered as a result of the legislature’s continued refusal to adequately fund our schools.

Communities lost.

Many communities will face higher property taxes AND the schools that educate their children will be forced to make additional cuts in programs and services because this state budget failed to provide enough new funding to school districts. The strength of local economies starts with our public schools. If PA continues to fail to support our public schools, it will be increasingly difficult for schools to provide students with the opportunities they need to graduate ready for a post-secondary education or a career, achievement gaps will widen and there will be a ripple effect on local economies throughout the Commonwealth.

Finally, the Fiscal Code authorizes the state to issue $2.5 billion (yes that is billion) in bonds in order to make construction reimbursement payments that the state owes to school districts through the PlanCon program. Lawmakers have kicked the can down the road for years by failing to make required payments that school districts both need and deserve, so now taxpayers will be on the hook for at least $1.5 billion (yes that is billion) in bank fees and interest on the bonds over the next 20 years. Borrowing costs may be higher because of PA’s 5 credit downgrades AND lawmakers who support this borrowing have not shared how they plan to pay for these substantial new debt service payments in future budgets. Sigh…

What’s Next

We joined allies in a press conference in Wednesday and will be heading to Harrisburg on Monday for a rally with more than 50 allies to kick off advocacy for a state budget that will include a $400 million increase in state funding for schools and are planning a wide variety of advocacy activities for the upcoming weeks. We are also beginning to dig into issues that ranked high among our survey respondents, including charter schools, testing, and “accountability” and look forward to working to working together to ensure that all PA public school children have access to quality schools.