OP-ED: Pa. should invest in education by reforming PlanCon


Last year, the General Assembly began the process of providing needed reforms to PlanCon, which is the commonwealth's program for reimbursing school districts for construction costs. In October 2012, a moratorium was put in place to allow the state time to address the timely and costly nature of the current PlanCon program. This moratorium created a backlog of projects as school districts across the commonwealth awaited reimbursement for over 350 construction projects.

PlanCon was developed by the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) to establish the process by which the state would reimburse school districts for construction projects. Following its creation decades ago, PlanCon has grown into a regulatory nightmare consisting of 11 steps, with the first step alone consisting of 200 pages.

Not only was the process long, but PlanCon was horribly outdated. Some steps require construction plans be sent on microfilm, which was used as far back as the 1920s. Additionally, the process lacks transparency as school districts are currently unable to find out where their project is on the list waiting for reimbursements since PDE lacks a website providing that information.

To address this problem, I introduced House Bill 2124 (ARC Con) last session to streamline the program and provide transparency for school districts. Regrettably, this legislation never made it to the governor's desk, but it was passed twice by the House.

In addition, the House, working with the Senate, ended the moratorium and provided additional funding in the budget to reimburse school districts. The result of the effort by the General Assembly was school districts were reimbursed for 58 construction projects.

Building off these successes, I reintroduced ARC Con as House Bill 210, which the House passed 142-52 earlier this month. In addition, Sen. John Eichelberger, R-Blair, introduced Senate Bill 694 as a companion bill in that chamber. The introduction of this legislation for this session, along with ending the moratorium, shows the General Assembly plans to honor the commonwealth's promises.

These bills would streamline the current process from 11 steps to five and automate the entire process. This would result in reducing the amount of time and money it takes school districts to apply. These commonsense reforms also protect local taxpayers by prioritizing rehabilitation of existing buildings over the construction of new, extravagant "Taj Mahal" school buildings.

In addition, by allowing school districts the option to receive 75 percent of their reimbursement up front, the commonwealth can save 25 percent on the total reimbursement.

These reforms would also serve to provide transparency, guaranteeing school districts are reimbursed in the order in which they applied. In addition, the legislation would create a website so school districts can track exactly where they are in the process and then budget accordingly.

Unfortunately, Gov. Tom Wolf, through his proposed budget, made it clear the current administration plans to reinstate the moratorium and return to the failed policies of the past.

This decision sends a clear and negative message to the school districts that are awaiting reimbursement on over 290 construction projects. Simply, how can school districts trust Harrisburg to invest in education if we continue to refuse to pay school districts their promised reimbursement?

The time is now to reform this outdated program and to keep the commonwealth's promises to invest in education by reimbursing school districts for construction costs.

— State Rep. Seth Grove is a Republican who represents York County's 196th Legislative District.