by Rep. Kristine Howard (D-167)
Let me begin by saying the budget we passed Friday wasn’t all it could have been, but as things go in a legislature controlled by a radicalized Republican majority, this $45.2 billion budget is truly an achievement.
The increase of $1.8 billion dollars in education spending is a monumental accomplishment and will have immediate and positive consequences for Pennsylvania schools and school children.
K-12 school districts in the Commonwealth will receive a $850 million increase with the state’s lowest funded schools targeted to receive $225 million more than last year. Other highlights include an additional $525 million for the Commonwealth’s Fair Funding Formula which delivers state funding to our public schools lessening the burden on local property taxpayers. Special education will get an extra $100 million.
Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education also gets a significant 16% bump with a $75 million dollar increase over last year and PASSHE schools will see $125 million jump in their budget from Pennsylvanian’s unspent federal stimulus funds to assist with the systems consolidation and reforms. Community colleges will see a 4.6% – $11.3 million increase bringing their line item up to $265.5 million.
The new budget’s education appropriation brings the education spending share of the state’s core budget of $42.8 billion (that’s the budget without federal stimulus money added) to $7.1 billion, a notable increase over previous years.
The budget is also putting some greenbacks in going greener. We will see $320 million dollars of federal funding invested in environmental initiatives, the biggest investment in environmental spending in more than a decade.
Specifically, the new money will create a clean streams funding source to pay for training and funding local conservation districts. Add $100 million more for maintaining and rehabilitating state forests and parks, and the next year will see important and sustainable environmental improvements.
Infrastructure and public safety
One notable change in the new budget is shifting the funding for the State Police from the Motor License Fund to the General Fund, freeing-up an additional $175 million dollars for transportation infrastructure. Thus, the Motor License Fund made up from gas tax money, license and registration fees and some traffic fines will be used for its original intended purposes of building and maintaining our roads and bridges.
Public safety in Pennsylvania will also get a $240 million boost. Organizations with a mission to preemptively prevent gun violence will receive $75 million in federal funds and an additional $30 million annual appropriation from the Commonwealth. Another $135 million in federal funds will go to grants to help law enforcement agencies, including providing resources to the State Police to hire 200 additional cadets this year.
A final thought
When Governor Wolf assumed office, the state had only $200,000 in its Rainy Day Fund and his predecessor had cut more than a billion dollars in public education funding. With the $2.1 billion dollars this budget deposits into the Rainy Day Fund, the Governor will leave office having increased the Commonwealth’s reserve to fund to $5 billion.
Over his 7.5 years in office, Governor Wolf has increased education funding by $3.7 billion, erasing the $1.2 billion cut by the last Republican governor and adding another $2.5 billion in new education funding.
We owe a debt of gratitude to Governor Wolf, for his fiscal stewardship and commitment to education in the face of a hostile extremist Republican majority legislature.