HARRISBURG, Pa., March 8, 2016 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- State Education Secretary Pedro A. Rivera offered testimony before the House and Senate Appropriations committees today to highlight the investments in education proposed by Governor Tom Wolf in the 2016-17 budget proposal. Rivera said those investments will put Pennsylvania back on a path to ensuring every student has access to a quality education regardless of zip code.
"Investing in schools is an investment in our state's future," Rivera said. "The governor's budget proposal is the path to greater opportunity for students and communities, and would expand the state's long-term economic growth."
Introduced in February, Governor Wolf's 2016-17 budget was built on the 2015-16 bipartisan, bicameral plan agreed to by lawmakers in December, and would fund pre-kindergarten through postsecondary programs, while eliminating the deficit, reducing reliance on property tax hikes to fund schools, and putting Pennsylvania on a path toward long-term economic growth. Governor Wolf is fighting to restore the cuts made by the previous administration, but inaction by the Republican-controlled legislature has left Pennsylvania with underfunded schools and a ballooning deficit. Pennsylvania is at a crossroads. The legislature can either choose to fund education and fix the deficit, or the state will be faced with an additional $1 billion in cuts to education funding.
Wolf proposed an additional $200 million for basic education in 2016-17, which would be driven through the formula unanimously-backed by the bipartisan Basic Education Funding Commission last June. In order to fairly distribute state funding, the formula accounts for several student and district factors including local tax effort, number of children in poverty, and enrollment levels.
"Over the past several years the impacts of funding inequities across Pennsylvania's schools have snowballed and reached an unsustainable level," Rivera said. "After the Commission's tireless work to develop a fair and equitable formula, the time has come to deliver state resources in a fair way."
Also under the governor's plan, special education would receive a $50 million increase, and pre-kindergarten programs would see a $60 million increase.
"Recent history has shown that if Pennsylvania takes the path that underfunds education, school districts are left with uncertainty and are forced to rely on property tax increases," Rivera said. "Further, the negative impacts of budget reductions in prior years could be prolonged."
In 2015, 83 school districts increased property taxes above the index, and 175 districts have submitted plans to raise taxes above the index this year. Under the prior administration massive cuts to education funding resulted in tens of thousands of educator layoffs, larger class sizes, and program cuts.
In the 2016-17 budget, the governor also proposed funds to modernize Career and Technical Education (CTE) in Pennsylvania by investing:
- $15 million for innovative programs that prepare students for high-priority occupations that pay a living wage and offer a career ladder for growth opportunities,
- $8 million for career counselors in middle and high schools to help students develop pathways to higher education and high-skill careers, and
- $5 million for equipment grants to ensure students are being trained on equipment and with tools that best mirror those used in industry.
"Updating our state's existing career and technical education programs will allow our students to explore career options and earn industry-recognized certificates while still in school," Rivera said. "Investments in CTE are one way Pennsylvania is seeking to expand educational opportunity for students."
The governor's proposal also seeks to bolster funding for Pennsylvania's institutions of higher learning including a combined 2015-16 and 2016-17 investment of $42.3 million for the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, $22.1 million for the commonwealth's 14 community college, and $59.7 million for state-related universities.
"Research indicates that a college degree benefits a person's earning potential, health outcomes and civic participation," Rivera said. "For too long our colleges and universities have had to depend on tuition and fee hikes to operate, which burdens Pennsylvania students and their families."
In addition to the program allocations in his spending plan, the Wolf Administration has outlined a series of initiatives to improve accountability for Pennsylvania's schools and taxpayers including:
- Creating of an Office of School Improvement within PDE;
- Exploring ways to modify the School Performance Profile (SPP);
- Changing the charter school tuition reimbursement for special education students to use the three tier formula proposed by the 2014 Special Education Funding Commission;
- Applying the same accountability standards to charter schools that currently apply to traditional public schools; and
- Permanently ending the pension double dip.
Rivera added that at Governor Wolf's direction the Department has already initiated a conversation and solicited feedback from hundreds of stakeholders including teachers, parents, advocates, lawmakers, higher education representatives and industry partners about how Pennsylvania can update the standardized test reliant-SPP to be a more holistic measure of student and school performance, and expand opportunity for all students regardless of zip code.
MEDIA CONTACT: Nicole Reigelman, 717.783.9802
SOURCE Pennsylvania Department of Education