Governor Tom Wolf said he was “making a historic commitment to education” when he unveiled his initial budget in March. His proposed budget reflects a monumental financial pledge to public education, and
increases the state’s share of public education funding from 35% to 50%.
According to Governor Wolf, the 2015-16 proposed budget is the initial phase of his plan to increase investment in K-12 and early childhood education by $2 billion over the next four years.
Governor Wolf’s plan aggressively attempts to address property taxes by proposing $3.8 billion in property tax relief starting in 2016-17.
Mr. Wolf would like to establish a funding formula linked to a school district’s profile, poverty levels and size. But the Governor has committed to collaborate with the legislature’s Basic Education Funding Commission to develop an equitable funding formula.
Proposed funding increases include:
- $6.13 billion in Basic Education Funding;
- $1.15 billion in Special Education Funding;
- $90 million for Career and Technical Education;
- $9 million for Dual Enrollment funded by the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency; and,
- $160 million in projected savings from Cyber Charter Reform.
The Governor’s proposal would seek to increase by 75% the number of children enrolled in pre-kindergarten. The Governor has proposed a $494 million total investment for Early Childhood Education.
Mr. Wolf’s planned spending increase in public education is based on a 5% severance tax on the extraction of natural gas which the Governor predicts will raise $1 billion. However, Marcellus Shale production has leveled off, the price of gas has decreased, and investment in new drilling sites has also dropped.
The Governor has also proposed increasing the personal income tax rate from 3.07% to 3.7%. Mr. Wolf’s plan increases the state sales tax from 6% to 6.6%, and taxes more items but provides exemptions for clothing, food and prescription drugs. Mr. Wolf argues these tax increases would reduce local property taxes by $3.8 billion.
The budget is a challenging process. Budget negotiations normally begin in earnest in June. The legislature is only in session for five days in May, but the House and Senate are in session most of June.
Right now both sides are fighting over the size of Mr. Wolf’s budget which he claims is $29.88 billion. Republicans argue that the real amount could be as high $33.8 billion.
The political reality is that no chamber or freshman Governor gets everything on their wish list. Hopefully, both sides can reach a budget agreement by June 30 that benefits public education.
Photo by bmward_2000