News Room

City’s public schools, education beneficiaries of new state budget

by Stacy M. Brown, Philadelphia Tribune, Jul 8, 2017

After state lawmakers overwhelmingly passed a $32 billion budget that still has no defined plan in which to pay for it, many around the commonwealth have hailed the spending plan as a victory for public schools and for early childhood and special education.

Local lawmakers added that it’s a victory for Philadelphia area schools as well.

“For Philadelphia, this boost in education means an extra $34 million for basic and special education,” said State Rep. Stephen Kinsey, (D-Phila).

“If we invest that money wisely to capitalize on our children’s capacities and maximize the support and learning opportunities, then we really stand a good chance of setting our communities on a trajectory of success,” said Kinsey, a member of the House Appropriations Committee.

“This budget isn’t perfect, but I’m pleased that it includes several increases for education,” said State Rep. James Roebuck, (D-Phila).

“During former Gov. Tom Corbett’s four years in office, Pennsylvania’s education suffered major cuts and I’m also pleased that we were able to protect the $30 million in state funding for the University of Pennsylvania veterinary school.”

The bill includes $100 million more for basic education; $25 million more for special education; $25 million more for Pre-K Counts; and $5 million more for Head Start.

Additionally, Pennsylvania’s 14 state-owned universities will see an $8.9 million increase and there will be a $19 million increase in funding for early intervention services for children ages birth to five.

“Our schools and students sorely need these resources now and the Education Law Center urges Gov. Wolf to sign the budget into law,” Deborah Gordon Klehr, the executive director of the Education Law Center, said in a statement.

“While any additional funding helps, we must be clear that this budget is a drop in the bucket compared to what is needed for an adequately and equitably funded statewide public education system. Students need a much larger increase to meet the basic standards the Legislature itself established.”

Education Law Center officials said they remain concerned about some of the ancillary legislative issues that have taken center stage of late including Senate Bill 383, which would allow school personnel to carry concealed weapons.

“In addition, we also remain concerned by HB 97, the so-called charter reform bill,” Klehr said.

“A responsible charter school law must empower local governing bodies to ensure accountability and strategically control charter growth as a tool to increase quality options and improve our system of public education. Charter schools must be held accountable for their obligation to serve all students. HB 97 is deficient as it stands, and we oppose it.”

Although austere, the budget will move Pennsylvania forward, said state Sen. Vincent Hughes, the Philadelphia Democratic who’s chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

“This budget is the result of a concerted effort to move Pennsylvania forward thoughtfully and responsibly,” Hughes said in a statement. “Given today’s economic and political environment, we decided to work together to get something positive done.”

Hughes said the budget plan steered closer to the governor’s initial budget proposal and restored draconian cuts that were proposed during the budget negotiation process.

“The governor proposed an austere budget that was modest and it attempted to address our social and political reality,” Hughes said. “Throughout the budget process, we had significant conversations with all parties to get us to a point where we came close to the governor’s proposal.

“We restored cuts made in the House Republican plan, we were thoughtful about how we restructure government and we presented a foundation for the future,” he added.

Hughes noted the investment in education which he said almost fully restores “the deep, disastrous cuts to education from the previous administration.”

Fellow Philadelphia Senate Democrat Art Haywood voted against the budget, but conceded that the “better part” of it remains that there’s been a $54 million increase in spending overall and the Pre-K to 12th grade funding will go up approximately $155 million.

“I cannot and did not vote for a budget that maintains the minimum wage of $7.25 per hour,” Haywood said. “While the Senate has temporarily avoided a complete wreck, this is not the best route for the commonwealth and the Senate still needs to determine where the money to pay for [the budget] will come.”

Wolf has until the close of business on Monday to either sign or veto the plan. If he does nothing, the budget becomes law after midnight Monday.