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Overdue budget gives PA schools temporary relief

By   /   March 23, 2016  /Pennsylvania Watchdog

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf will allow the 2015-16 state budget to become law without his signature, but he vetoed broad education funding reforms that were included in the spending plan.

AP file photo

AP file photo

BUDGET BAND-AID: Pennsylvania schools can breathe a sigh of relief as state funds will be restored, but Gov. Tom Wolf’s passage of an overdue 2015-16 budget will not contain a landmark education funding formula many districts were hoping for.

The result gives cash-strapped Pennsylvania school districts only temporary relief fromstructural deficits and funding challenges.

“This budget does not solve the state’s long-term school funding crisis,” the multi-organization Campaign for Fair Education Funding said in a statement.

After a 267-day budget impasse that was tied to education spending increases and tax hikes to pay for them, Wolf approved but refused to put his name on a $30 billion spending plan that includes a $200 million increase in education funding. Wolf was seeking a $400 million bump in school aid.

“I cannot in good conscience sign this bill,” Wolf said. “I cannot in good conscience attach my name to a budget that simply does not add up. But to allow us to move on to face budget challenges of 2016-17, I am going to allow HB1801 to become law.”

With a $2 billion deficit looming next year, the 2015-16 spending plan cuts expenditures by $238 million, but Wolf says it remains $290 million off the mark.

While some Pennsylvania school districts were in danger of running out of money before the end of the school year because state funding was frozen during a nine-month budget impasse, landmark education funding measures included in the budget will not be enacted.

Districts like the struggling Erie schools were hoping elements of the a basic education funding formula would transform the way schools are funded, with adjustments to account for enrollment numbers, students living in poverty, English language learners, special education students, and charter school enrollment.

Related: Erie the ‘poster child’ for PA school funding woes.

Last year, the bipartisan Basic Education Funding Commission made recommendations to lawmakers on how to overhaul those funding streams, but those measures were part of a fiscal code Wolf struck down.

“The governor will veto the fiscal code because it contains unconstitutional provisions, guts important environmental regulations, and tries to establish legislative authority over issues that fall under executive jurisdiction,” Wolf spokesman Jeff Sheridan said.

Erie is one of the poorest districts in the state, yet receives less funding from Harrisburg that most of Pennsylvania’s 500 other districts. The formula would have evened out some of the state school funding.

Without a fiscal code, Sheridan said the administration will “work to distribute the funding provided in the general appropriations bill in the most appropriate manner possible.” The administration also divvied up funds in December when Wolf signed a partial spending plan.

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