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Wolf administration makes down payment on education funding, favoring districts hurt by cuts

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Following up on Gov. Wolf’s line-item veto of a Republican budget package last week, the Pennsylvania Department of Education has released its plan for distributing six months’ worth of education aid to school districts across the state and has started sending out the dollars – 2.8 billion of them.

Philadelphia is getting $518 million.

The governor is holding back on the rest of the year’s education aid, hoping to force the legislature back to the table to reconsider his proposal for a major increase in school funding.

The state’s emergency education allocations announced this week are based on the total dollars approved by the legislature in the budget that Wolf rejected. The administration is sending school districts 45 percent of their projected basic education funding for the year and 100 percent of their funding from a separate education block grant program.

According to a Department of Education spreadsheet, the $518 million that Philadelphia schools are slated to receive for the first six months of the year works out to a little less than half of what the governor would have allocated if he had accepted the Republican budget plan and provided a full year of funding. The aid consists of $456 million in basic education funding and $62 million from the Ready to Learn block grant.

In allocating new education dollars, Wolf has made a couple of decisions that ruffle feathers. He has prioritized restoring past cuts to the basic education funding formula, and he has devoted a $58 million increase in the Ready to Learn block grant program to restoring a portion of the charter school reimbursement that districts serving charter school students used to receive before it was eliminated by the Corbett administration.

Republicans in Harrisburg are complaining about the decision, saying that the administration’s allocations are not consistent with the bipartisan “framework” that state leaders had agreed to last month – which House Republicans subsequently backed away from.

Susan Gobreski of Education Voters Pennsylvania praised the allocations. “The governor is working very hard to come up with something fair that remediates the damage that’s been done by past cuts,” she said. “We should drive out funding to the districts that were hardest hit.”

Gobreski observed that by allocating $58 million in new money toward restoring the charter school reimbursement, the Wolf administration is favoring districts with large numbers of charter school students. That will ultimately help fill the coffers of charter schools by raising their per-pupil reimbursement.

But the Keystone Alliance for Public Charter Schools says that charters are being shortchanged – that charters should be receiving block grant dollars now, directly from the state.

Tim Eller, executive director of the Keystone Alliance, says the Ready to Learn block grant program was established in 2014 to fund all schools, district and charter, on a per-pupil basis.

In a statement, Eller said, “On behalf of its members and all brick-and-mortar charter schools across the state, the Keystone Alliance calls on the Wolf administration to distribute the Ready-to-Learn Block Grant as intended.”

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Paul Socolar

@PaulSocolar
Paul is the Notebook's former editor and publisher and also one of its founders in 1994.