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A breakdown of Gov. Wolf’s plan for new education spending

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

What has Gov. Wolf proposed?

In the first year of his plan, the governor wants to increase spending for education, from pre-K through higher ed, by $1 billion.

Of this figure, $500 million would go to K-12 classrooms ($400 million to basic education and $100 million to special education).

Pre-K Counts and Head Start would received $120 million in new aid. The state’s higher-ed system, along with community colleges, would get a $143 million boost in exchange for enacting tuition freezes.

Over four years, K-12 spending would get an additional $2 billion.

Wolf plans to pay for the increased spending by implementing a comprehensive tax overhaul.

• The state’s personal income tax would rise for all taxpayers from 3.07 percent to 3.7 percent.

• The state sales tax would rise from 6.0 percent to 6.6 percent, while expanding the base of taxable items. Food, clothing, and prescription drugs would continue to be exempt, but an assortment of items and services would become newly subject to the levy.

• Wolf would increase the state’s cigarette tax by $1 per pack, effective Oct. 1, 2015, bringing the full state levy to $2.60. Philadelphia’s $2 per pack tax would be repealed. Wolf would also impose a tax on other tobacco products, including e-cigarettes.

• Wolf has also called for a two-part natural gas drilling tax, which would go into effect in 2016. He’d institute a 5 percent tax on the value of the gas coming out of the ground, in addition to taking 4.7 cents per thousand cubic feet of extracted gas. He says the latter will act as a hedge against fluctuations in the price of gas.

• Wolf’s plan would also cut the state’s corporate net income tax in half — from 9.99 percent to 4.99 percent. He’d continue the phaseout of the capital stock and franchise tax. He’s also called for a state minimum wage increase to $10.10 per hour.

• The entire gambit hinges on a $3.8 billion property tax relief measure that would shift the state’s share of public education funding from about 35 percent to more than 50 percent. On average, Wolf says, homeowners would save about $1,000 per year. In some very impoverished districts, school property taxes would become non-existent.

"If Pennsylvania is going to be one of the best places to get an education, we can no longer afford to be one of the worst in funding our schools. We need a historic commitment to education, and we’re making it today," Wolf said at his budget presentation on March 3.

How would schools fare under Wolf’s plan?

Wolf’s plan was universally lauded by school communities across the state. Because Wolf has called for new spending to be allocated through a student-weighted funding formula, the state’s poorest school districts would see the biggest influx. They say this would allow them to replace much of the critical staff and supports lost to budget cuts in recent years.

While bricks-and-mortar charters stand to gain much under his proposal, Wolf singles out cyber charters for drastic cuts.

He’d reduce cyber charter funding to a flat fee of $5,950 per pupil, saving $160 million. Cyber operators say their budgets would be slashed nearly in half if Wolf gets his way. They question the method by which he arrived at his flat-fee figure.

How has Wolf’s proposal been received among state legislators?

Some Democrats have fully embraced Wolf’s plan.

Republican leadership has staunchly opposed it, saying that it places too great a burden on taxpayers.

"It’s a $33 billion budget, which is a 15 percent increase, which makes Ed Rendell look pretty conservative right now," said Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R, Centre County) on the day that the budget was unveiled.

The Wolf administration says that homeowners who earn less than $100,000 would see a net tax break based on the proposed plan.

In late April, the Independent Fiscal Office produced an analysis that found otherwise. The IFO says all income brackets will take a tax hit — albeit minimal for the lowest earners.

Wolf disputes the IFO’s calculus. Regardless, Corman says Wolf’s vision has no shot of garnering the votes needed to pass.

Although a budget agreement is technically due at the end of June, many lawmakers and observers are anticipating a protracted negotiation session.

About this series: Multiple Choices is a collaboration between Keystone Crossroads and the Philadelphia Public School Notebook, an independent, nonprofit source of education news. The project is funded by a grant from the William Penn Foundation in Philadelphia.

In the Multiple Choices podcast, Keystone Crossroads senior education writer Kevin McCorry joins with Paul Socolar, publisher and editor of the Public School Notebook, and Notebook contributing editor Dale Mezzacappa to explain and explore the history, complexities and controversies of public education funding in Pennsylvania.

Look for new installments of Multiple Choices every week for the rest of the spring, as the General Assembly reviews Gov. Wolf’s ambitious school funding and tax plan.

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