How a boost in education funding will benefit Pa. schools. Here's where the money will go
Gov. Tom Wolf signed the Pennsylvania budget Wednesday and celebrated a "small win" in the largest education funding increase in state history.
More than $13 billion in funding is headed to schools, but Democrats have said it's not enough when some students in impoverished districts have to learn in asbestos-filled buildings where it's not safe to drink the water.
Wolf in his February budget address asked for a $1 billion increase in school funding, but Republican leaders who control the General Assembly agreed to a $416 million increase.
That's why the Democratic governor on Wednesday described the results of budget negotiations as a "first down" instead of a touchdown.
"We're still in the game," Wolf said during a press conference with reporters. "We still have the ball. We're not where we want to be. It's a step."
Football metaphors aside, Wolf and House and Senate Democrats stood on the Capitol steps Wednesday morning and cheered the education budget as a success. It includes:
- $200 million more in the Fair Funding Formula
- $100 million to support underfunded school districts through the Level Up initiative,
- $50 million in special education funding
- $30 million for early education
- $20 million for Ready to Learn
- $11 million for preschool Early Intervention
- $5 million for community colleges
"A $416 million increase in high quality education shows every student that we care about their education and that we care about their future," Wolf said.
The money will also help the next generation succeed in Pennsylvania, rather than leaving for another state, he said.
Wolf said he was disappointed he could not get all of the education funding through the Fair Funding Formula, which makes education funding more equitable regardless of the tax base of a student's school district.
"We almost did it, but not quite," the governor said. "In the meantime, let's celebrate this victory today."
House Democratic Leader Joanna McClinton said described the new education funding as a "small win."
She previously called the budget passed last week "a missed opportunity."
When lawmakers return for voting in September, McClinton said Democrats "are determined when we return to session with money in the bank" to make sure schools and homeowners get relief and property tax breaks.
She also pointed out that the state has long way to go in equitable funding, pointing out that some students have computer labs and other educational tools, and others don't.
Rep. Mike Schlossberg, D-Lehigh, highlighted how $100 million in the new budget will go to the state's 100 poorest school districts.
He said the state is "dead last" in the gap between the richest and poorest students.
"We have historically failed to meet the challenge of closing the gap," Schlossberg said. "Our poorest schools need more help, and they need it now."
The $100 million is a start, state officials said.
"Help is on its way," said state education Secretary Noe Ortega," and more is to come."
Candy Woodall is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Pennsylvania Capital Bureau. She can be reached at 717-480-1783 or on Twitter at @candynotcandace.