It’s going to be a busy weekend in Harrisburg.
On Friday, June 30th, the PA legislature passed the spending half of the 2017-2018 state budget agreement and sent it to Governor Wolf.
Lawmakers have until Monday, July 10th, to get the revenue half of the agreement to Governor Wolf’s desk. They will be in the Capitol all weekend passing bills, cutting deals, and trying to figure out how to raise nearly $2 billion in new revenue necessary to fund the 2017-2018 budget.
School funding in the budget
Thanks to the very strong advocacy of Pennsylvanians who support public education (you!), the General Assembly’s budget retained Governor Wolf’s proposed $100 million increase in Basic Education Funding and $25 million increase in Special Education Funding. This budget also contains $30 million in additional funding for early childhood education.
These increases in K-12 funding are critically necessary and appreciated. However, even with these increases, state funding for schools in PA remains so inadequate that school districts throughout the commonwealth are continuing to raise local taxes and slash programs and services in schools. Moving forward the legislature must make significantly larger investments in public education so that all children in PA will receive the basic, essential opportunities they will need for success today and in the future.
HB 97, the charter school expansion bill, may move
On June 28th, the Senate Education Committee approved HB 97 by a 7-5 vote and sent it to the Appropriations Committee.
We don’t know what lawmakers have planned for HB 97 over the weekend. The Senate may vote on HB 97, it may be placed into the school code, where it would become law if Wolf does not veto it, or it may wait until the fall.
Lobbyists for the charter school industry will be swarming the Capitol, putting significant pressure on lawmakers to enact HB 97.
Lawmakers need to be reminded that they were elected to represent their constituents, not the charter school industry.
Worth noting: Before the Senate Education Committee passed HB 97, they amended the bill to make it even more favorable to the charter industry by stripping out $27 million in savings that school districts would have received this year and next year as a result of changes in cyber charter school tuition payments.
Sin taxes and a loan to fund the budget; threats of a credit downgrade and higher interest payments for taxpayers
State lawmakers continue to refuse to tax gas drillers, close corporate tax loopholes, or raise other responsible recurring revenues to help pay the state’s bills and fund our schools. Instead, they are considering more sin taxes (an expansion of liquor sales and casino-style gambling) and borrowing money to cover $2 billion in revenue shortfalls.
Standard and Poor’s, a credit ratings agency, has not taken a favorable view of the PA budget thus far and issued the following statement:
While it is not uncommon for states to have periodic structural imbalance, Pennsylvania’s chronic misalignment and eroding general fund position, particularly during a period of economic growth, demonstrate a pattern of financial mismanagement. If legislators enact a budget that relies on what we view as optimistic assumptions or one-time sources, we would likely lower the rating.
PA has already experienced multiple credit downgrades in recent years and has one of the lowest credit ratings in the US.
Another credit downgrade promises even higher interest rates, more costs for taxpayers, and less of a chance that PA will ever have enough revenue to provide adequate funding to our public schools.
Thank you for your continued support of our public schools during these challenging times. Every action you have taken has made a difference for PA’s public school students.