Wolf proposes $200M more for education next fiscal year

Jessica Schladebeck

Gov. Tom Wolf, a week ahead of his formal budget proposal for the 2016-17 fiscal year, announced he will continue to seek an increase in state funding for education.


Wolf's announcement, which came at Green Elementary School in the Reading School District on Tuesday, was made even though he and the Republican-controlled Legislature have not reached a final agreement on education spending for the current fiscal year. Billions for schools and universities remain in limbo after Wolf at the end of December used a line-item veto to reject portions of the Republican-passed budget. The governor released emergency funding to make sure schools' doors remained open while negotiations continued.

Wolf, during his proposal set for Feb. 9, will seek out a spending plan that would add $377 million in education funding to this year's unfinished state budget and an additional $200 million — an approximate 3.3 percent increase — for the upcoming fiscal year set to begin at the start of July, according to a news release.

Combined, the two-year increase would bring state aid for public schools to $6.3 billion. That’s an overall increase of 10 percent.

The $377 million increase was a part of an agreement supported by bipartisan majorities in both chambers that fell apart shortly before Christmas.

Support: Northern York County Superintendent Eric Eshbach said his district will always be appreciative of an increase in funding and urged lawmakers to get on board.

"We appreciate the governor's recognition that this needs to happen," he said. "It says to me that he realizes it is through education that we can create a citizenry that will add to the job market and support the government. In short, we thank you, we appreciate that."

Wolf said he intends for the proposed funds to be distributed using the new fair funding formula created by the bipartisan Basic Education Funding Commission in June.

The use of the formula will ensure the distribution of funds is done in a "fair and equitable way," Eshbach said. "I think that shows they understand you just don’t throw money at a problem and make it go away."

Underwhelmed: Campaign for Fair Education Funding spokesman Charlie Lyons said Wolf's commitment to increasing funding is an "essential first step," but the organization was underwhelmed by Wolf's proposal.

"We need multiple years of increased investment and a permanent, student-driven funding formula," Lyons said. "The $200 million increase proposed by the governor for next year does not keep us on track toward the long-term goal. We urge the governor and Legislature to increase that amount when enacting a final budget for the next fiscal year."

The Campaign for Fair Education Funding called on Wolf and lawmakers to include $400 million more in the 2016-17 budget as well as adopt the fair funding formula and to bring the state's increased allocation for basic education funding for this fiscal year to at least $350 million.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Gov. Tom Wolf

— Reach Jessica Schladebeck at jschladebeck@yorkdispatch.com.