Oped: PA Schools: Celebrating progress, sustaining investment

Pedro A. Rivera, Pennsylvania Secretary of Education

Over the past two years I’ve had the privilege to visit dozens of schools across the Commonwealth. These visits have given me the opportunity to join communities in celebrating the great achievements schools are making every day, as well as engage in thoughtful conversations with stakeholders about successes and the residual challenges schools face from years of chronic under-funding.

Pennsylvania Education Secretary Pedro A. Rivera

As a commonwealth, we’ve made great progress in properly investing in education — finally climbing out of a funding hole that forced our schools to make damaging cuts in programs and staff. Through steadfast support, the governor secured more than an additional $640 million for schools in his first two years. This year, when the state is facing enormous fiscal challenges, Gov. Tom Wolf is continuing to prioritize our students and advocate for additional funding education for a third straight year.

The additional $125 million in K-12 funding that the governor has proposed will allow our schools to continue to deliver the quality education that every student deserves. Schools across the state will use this funding to continue to implement innovative strategies in the classroom, and expand programs proven to prepare students for success after they graduate. 

A $100 million increase in basic education funding would be driven to districts using the Basic Education Funding Formula, a bipartisan measure, which Wolf signed into law last year. The long overdue formula works toward both equity and predictability by accounting for both student- and district-based factors. This year’s investment would be in addition to the over $500 million that has been distributed through the formula already. It would also include an additional $25 million in special education funding.

The governor has also shown his support for our youngest learners, by proposing an additional $75 million for high-quality early learning programs. These programs are vital to ensuring students start kindergarten with the tools they need to hit the ground running. Further, access to pre-kindergarten programs, like Pre-K Counts, are shown to have long-term benefits like higher academic proficiency and improved employability for students later in life.

There is still tremendous unmet need when it comes to pre-kindergarten in the commonwealth, but under Wolf’s proposal, Pennsylvania could expand pre-kindergarten to an additional 8,400 children, which will strengthen the economy, reduce long-term costs, and improve academic outcomes.

As part of his 2017-18 budget, Wolf also included a new school improvement initiative that will help ensure that state funding over the past two years is improving student outcomes. Using a proposed state investment of $2 million to leverage an additional $1 million in federal dollars, this initiative will establish a pilot program in 15 schools across the state to use innovative and evidence-based approaches to school improvement, rather relying on the cookie cutter strategies of the past.

This Administration knows the value that schools provide to communities across Pennsylvania, and that failing to invest in education has a long-term detrimental impact on our state’s economy, which why even in fiscally challenging times Wolf has continued to be a champion for our schools.

The historic investment the governor has made, coupled with dedicated and hardworking educators, have helped reverse the harm effects cuts had on some of our schools, but there is more to be done and this year’s proposal is a renewal of the Governor’s support of education as well as a blueprint to put students on a path to achievement. 

— Pedro A. Rivera is Pennsylvania Secretary of Education.