After a long, drawn-out budget battle, Pennsylvania Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro in August signed a new budget bill that increased funding for public education by 8%.
The increases, which amount to about $700 million in additional funding for Pennsylvania students, came after Shapiro opposed a private school voucher program spearheaded by Republicans in the state Senate that would have diverted $100 million in state funds from public schools.
Highlights of the boost in education dollars include $567 million more for local school districts across the board through an increase in the state’s Basic Education Funding Formula, $50 million more for special education, and $46.5 million for universal free breakfast.
However, the fight isn’t over: Pennsylvania requires separate legislation, known as code bills, to authorize implementation of the budget. And Republicans, still focused on the school vouchers program Shapiro already vetoed, are standing in the way.
Advocates previously said that an earlier version of the vouchers program would have decimated funding for Philadelphia schools.
On Aug. 30, the Pennsylvania State Senate, dominated by Republicans, voted 28-19 to pass a code bill that included the vouchers program.
That code bill and a separate one that Republican Senate Leader Scott Martin said included “the uncontroversial things we all agree on” lacked authorization for programs promoted by Democrats, including $100 million for Pennsylvania’s poorest schools systems and $10 million in stipends for student teachers, according to Spotlight PA.
The two code bills are unlikely to pass. Democrats in the House majority have said they won’t accept the Republicans’ legislation without major changes. The education funding will sit in limbo until a deal can be reached.
Pennsylvania State Education Association union president Rich Askey said Republican lawmakers’ fixation on school vouchers is preventing funding of the urgent needs.
“Public schools are struggling to place teachers and aides in classrooms and hire bus drivers to take kids to school,” Askey said in a statement the day of the Senate’s vote on the two code bills. “We need to fund programs that address these problems. No Pennsylvanian can afford to let tuition voucher politics get in the way of doing that.”
In the statement, PSEA said Republicans are letting funds already sitting in state coffers remain unused.
“Nearly two months ago, the Senate passed a budget that addresses some of the real needs in our public schools. But today’s actions demonstrate that some lawmakers are more interested in political games than doing the right thing for Pennsylvania’s public school students and families,” Askey said in the statement. “As a result, our students and future educators will suffer the consequences of their inaction. Once again, these lawmakers have put politics and ideology ahead of public school students.”
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.