In order to rebuild Pennsylvania’s middle class and re-establish Pennsylvania as an economic leader, we must work to secure the best education possible for Pennsylvania students.
But after the massive cuts that gutted districts over the last four years, forcing teacher layoffs and increased class sizes, we have a duty to restore and reinvest in our education system. It’s a topic that is not up for debate — because it’s just too important.
Gov. Wolf is committed to not only restoring the full $1 billion in cuts, with a goal of providing $2 billion over four years, but this year his budget invests an additional $400 million into basic education.
Most of this new funding comes from the revenue generated from a severance tax on natural gas. It is past time that companies pay their fair share so we can fund our schools for a change, especially as gas companies are posting billions in profits and schools across the commonwealth are struggling to pay for basic programs.
The governor is also making sure school districts are using taxpayer money wisely by tying that funding to proven strategies that will ensure the resources are spent directly in the classroom, with measurable results.
In fact, many superintendents have already submitted plans to the Department of Education detailing programs they plan to invest in — like full-day kindergarten — which can be assessed through benchmarks such as 3rd grade reading levels, high school graduation rates and eventually, college matriculation and employment wages.
Gov. Wolf’s budget also focuses on equity through the creation of a fair-funding formula that distributes funding in a transparent and equitable manner, taking into account each district’s unique needs. Additionally, the governor’s budget strengthens the accountability of charter schools to make sure all charter schools are being held to the same standards as our public schools.
Charter schools have an important role in our education system, but we must accompany that with sufficient oversight that benefits all students. By the end of last school year, charter schools had amassed over $156 million in undesignated, unreserved fund balances because they collected more in tuition than they actually spent on students.
The governor’s plan calls for fully audited expenditures and mandates that all money not spent on students be returned to school districts at the end of the year. Additionally, payment limits to cyber charters, whose structures differ greatly from traditional brick-and-mortar charters, will save Pennsylvania’s school districts more than $160 million.
The governor’s budget doesn’t only invest in K through 12 education, but increases funding at all levels including early childhood education and higher education. His proposed budget increases funding for early learning programs by $120 million, which will lead to 75 percent enrollment increase in Pre-K Counts and the Head Start Supplemental Assistance Program.
These proactive steps will result in at least 14,000 more children having access to early childhood education, and already the Commonwealth has received Letters of Intent for nearly 25,000 slots, which highlights the need for the legislature to approve the governor’s budget.
The plan laid out by Gov. Wolf also reinvests in higher education and commits to fully restoring cuts to colleges and universities over the next two years. And we will leverage this investment to dramatically improve college completion rates, boost innovation, and strengthen alignment with real-world economic opportunities and the needs of employers.
Additionally, the governor’s budget provides an increase of more than $2 million for specialized technical education so we can train a future workforce for a modern economy.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach for every student, because every child learns differently. Parents must consider what is best for their child’s education — for some it will be a traditional public school, for others a charter or a private school. But in order to ensure student success across the commonwealth, we must remain focused on a student-driven agenda.
John Hanger is the Secretary of Planning and Policy on Gov. Tom Wolf’s staff.