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School funding again the center of Wolf's budget agenda

  • Wolf budget address feb 9 2016
    Governor Tom Wolf / Flickr




With a big question mark still looming over this year's school funding plan, Pennsylvania's Gov. Wolf presented his education budget vision for next school year on Tuesday — doubling down on his ambitious agenda.

Since the last budget address, a year of negotiations with the Republican-held state House and Senate have yielded none of Wolf's education funding priorities.

On Tuesday, that didn't stop the governor from calling for more.

During a budget address that was short on specifics, but long on contempt for Republican lawmakers, Wolf warned that further stalled negotiations would lead to continued downgrades of credit ratings,  more local property tax hikes, and worsening school services.

"Thousands of teachers will be laid off. Guidance and career counselors will be handed pink slips. In all, more than 23,000 education professionals will be immediately yanked out of Pennsylvania's schools," Wolf said.

In total, between this year's unresolved budget and next year's, Wolf proposes a $677 million boost to basic and special education spending.

The $200 million called for in this year's basic education line item would be driven through the student-weighted funding formula proposed recently by a bipartisan legislative funding commission.

Between this year and last, Wolf also called for a $120 million boost to early childhood education and 5 percent increases over two years to community colleges and state and state-related universities.

Wolf proposed a $15 million boost for the establishment and expansion of high-quality career and technical education programs; $5 million for new equipment for these programs; and $8 million for college and career counseling.

Many education advocates contend that Wolf's funding proposal needs to be even higher in order to give districts the resources they need to ensure that students can meet the state's academic expectations. Some note that Pennsylvania has the largest funding gap between the wealthiest and poorest schools in the United States, and it has some of the widest economic, racial, and ethnic achievement gaps in the country.

"Now, it is one of only two states that has not passed a budget this year, leaving schools to borrow millions of dollars to stay open," said Charlie Lyons, spokesman for Campaign for Fair Education Funding. "It is time for Pennsylvania to become a leader instead of a laggard in supporting the education of our children."

Wolf's plan also looks to reap $240 million in savings by reforming the charter school sector. Wolf would adjust the way charters receive funding for children with special education needs, reduce payments to cyber charters, end the pension double dip, and require charter schools to send back unassigned fund balances to districts.

Charter advocates decried Wolf's proposed reforms.

Read the rest of this story at NewsWorks

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Kevin McCorry

Kevin is WHYY/NewsWorks' senior education writer.