OPED: A big day in Pennsylvania education
Article III, Subsection B, Section 14 of the Pennsylvania Constitution states, “The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of the Commonwealth.” When it comes to educating our students, Wednesday, April 13, was a very big day.
The highlight of the day came late in the afternoon when the House sent legislation to Gov. Tom Wolf’s desk that will require use of a more equitable school funding formula rather than the governor’s own plan that funneled an inordinate amount of money to the School District of Philadelphia. Because House Bill 1589 was endorsed by every House member from York County and passed each chamber of the General Assembly by a two-thirds majority, it cannot be vetoed by the governor.
When Gov. Wolf tried to distribute school funding using his own wishes, he turned his back on the majority of students in both rural and suburban areas, including all of York County. The result would have been a loss of money for more than 430 of Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts.
The formula recommended by the Basic Education Funding Commission last year is not perfect. It is, however, a huge step in the right direction when it comes to addressing under-funding of growing regions of the state like York County that have been shortchanged for far too long. Additionally, it restores to York County $3.7 million dollars in basic education funding and more than $12 million dollars in PlanCon funding that should help local school districts balance their budgets in a kinder, gentler fashion for local taxpayers.
Saving taxpayer dollars is the purpose of House Bill 1084, my pension reform legislation which passed the House earlier that day. The bill would prevent future employees of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA) from enrolling in the Public School Employees Retirement System.
PSBA employees have been participating in our state’s public pension system and costing taxpayers millions of dollars, even though they are not public sector employees. The association is a private sector, non-profit, advocacy entity made up of non-public sector employees who should not be receiving a pension and benefits at taxpayers’ expense. I hope my Senate colleagues act quickly on it.
Also earlier in the day, the House sent to the state Senate two pieces of legislation I supported in committee and on the floor. House Bill 1906 would require every school board member to undergo a training program on the skills and knowledge pertaining to running a school district. After being elected to office, members of the General Assembly undergo “freshman orientation,” three days of training to learn what is involved in serving as a state representative or state senator. This training is followed by yearly ethics training. School directors would be well served to do likewise.
When the bill passed overwhelmingly, it included an important amendment I offered. The bill allows the Pennsylvania Department of Education to formulate the training program. I asked that the program that will be formulated by the Pennsylvania Department of Education in conjunction with the Pennsylvania School Boards Association be required to include educating directors on Pennsylvania’s Sunshine Act. This act legislates the methods by which public meetings are conducted. Having served as a board member before running for state office, I know how cognizant of this law school boards must be and what can happen if they aren’t.
School truancy remains a problem. House Bill 1907, which passed that day in near unanimous fashion, extensively revises the portion of the Public School Code dealing with truancy. Among other things, it clarifies the procedure schools must follow with respect to children who are truant, having three or more days of unexcused absences during a school year, and habitually truant, having six or more days of unexcused absences during a school year.
Pennsylvania invests an incredible amount of money in public education. That investment only pays off if students are in the classroom. House Bill 1907 has in mind the best interests of not only our children, but taxpayers who deserve to have their hard-earned dollars put to work as best they can be.
The General Assembly is often criticized for an inability to work together. If you check the voting record for April 13, you will find these bills moved with tremendous bipartisan support. It is a great example of both sides of the aisle coming together to do what’s best for our children, our taxpayers, and the future of the state of Pennsylvania.
— Kristin Phillips-Hill is a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, representing the 93rd House district in York County.