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Tight State Budget Proposal Boosts Education

Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed budget increases basic education funding in Pennsylvania by $100 million. (Office of Gov. Tom Wolf)
February 8. 2017
Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed budget increases basic education funding in Pennsylvania by $100 million. (Office of Gov. Tom Wolf)

HARRISBURG, Pa. – Gov. Tom Wolf's budget is balanced through cuts and consolidation, but it calls for increased education funding. The $32.3 billion spending plan would attack looming budget deficits with more than two-billion dollars in cuts and efficiency measures.

Deborah Gordon Klehr, director of the Education Law Center, praises the proposed $75 million increase in early childhood education and extra funding for early intervention as crucial investments. But while spending increases for grades K-through-12 are appreciated, she says they fall short of what's needed.

"The governor's proposed increase of $100 million in basic education and $25 million in special education funding will not be enough to allow schools to close longstanding resource gaps," she said.

She says closing those gaps would require additional state investment of almost $3 billion over time.

Klehr points out that Pennsylvania ranks 46th in the nation for state share of education funding, and still has the largest difference in funding between wealthy and poor school districts.

"Taking all of that into consideration, we're hopeful that we can work with the governor and the General Assembly to ensure that the budget gets us closer to closing that $3 billion adequacy gap," she explained.

Last year, the General Assembly approved a "fair funding formula" to address disparities in the distribution of state education dollars.

Klehr notes that any new money allocated to basic education funding will now go through that formula.

"And that will make a difference ultimately in closing the gaps, in terms of what our districts and students need versus what they currently receive," she added.

While she says any funding increase is welcome, public-education advocates stress that more investment will be needed to deal with longstanding inequities.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - PA