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Education highlights from Gov. Wolf’s proposed budget

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Here are the highlights from Gov. Wolf’s proposed education budget, in which he says he is “making a historic commitment to education.”

• Total K-12 state education spending (plus libraries) would be $9.8 billion, one-third of the $30 billion proposed state budget.

• Wolf says he is restoring about $1 billion in overall cuts to education made under former Gov. Tom Corbett. Pennsylvania’s level of support for education is worse than Alabama, Mississippi, and West Virginia, he said.

• Wolf is proposing an education funding formula tied to factors such as district size, poverty level, and school characteristics that would make school funding “a matter of need, not politics.”

• The formula would “incentivize school districts to develop innovative programs that improve student achievement and hold down costs” and would be distributed “in a manner that is efficient, equitable, and transparent.”

• He will work with the legislature’s Basic Education Funding Commission, which is charged with devising its own formula by June: “Together, we will get this right.”

• Of that amount, he would put $400 million more into basic education and $115 million more to special education. The basic education money would go into schools and districts, not to pension costs, according to acting Education Secretary Pedro Rivera.

• Wolf proposes to change how cyber charters are paid for in a way that would save districts $160 million in payments to them; the new formula would be based on actual costs at the five highest-performing cyber charters.

• He would require brick-and-mortar charter schools to perform annual reconciliations and refund money to the host districts if they don’t spend all the tuition money they receive for students.

• He would make permanent the end to the charter school pension “double dip.”

• He would increase aid for career and technical education by $25 million, including invest $15 million for modernization.

• He would increase the number of children in pre-K by 75 percent, or 14,000 students, with a $120 million boost in spending.

• He would increase state aid to community colleges by $15 million.

• He would increase payments to the state system of higher education by $45 million, restoring half the cuts made since 2010-11.

• He would increase by $81 million the payments to the four state-related universities: Temple, Penn State, the University of Pittsburgh and Lincoln. Overall, higher education aid would increase by 11.8 percent. In return, Wolf is asking them to freeze tuition for one year.

How does Philadelphia fare?

• Wolf’s budget proposes a $159 million hike in basic and special education funding for Philadelphia. That’s a dramatic 13.8 percent increase. The average boost for districts across the state would be 7.6 percent.

• Of the increase, $142 million is for basic education and $17 million for special education.

How would this be paid for?

• A 5 percent severance tax on the extraction of natural gas that will raise $1 billion.

• An increase in the personal income tax rate from 3.07 percent to 3.7 percent and in the state sales tax from 6 percent to 6.6 percent, while reducing local property taxes by $4 billion, especially for seniors on fixed incomes.

• In Philadelphia, it would be the wage tax that is reduced, from 3.92 percent to 3.48 percent for residents, and from 3.49 percent to 3.11 percent for non-residents.

More information about the governor’s proposed education budget can be found on the Pennsylvania Department of Education website.

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