While some have celebrated Governor Wolf’s inaction resulting in a comprehensive budget late last month, his veto of the corresponding fiscal code bill is a cause for consternation. Wolf’s veto of the fiscal code bill effectively means he may disperse state funding as he sees fit, rather than adhere to the allocations and fiscal planning made by the legislature.
Wolf’s latest volley in the Pennsylvania budget debacle is to distribute school funds for basic education at a much higher rate, for three school districts, than proposed in the fiscal bill. Of the approximately $200 million in new education funding, Philadelphia school district would receive $76.8 million, Pittsburgh school district would receive $7.5 million, and Chester Upland would receive $16.3 million. Wolf’s distribution leaves Pennsylvania’s 497 other school districts to split the remaining half.
Besides the obvious issue of having over 99% of Pennsylvania schools split around 50% of the basic education budget, Wolf’s proposal also ignores bi-partisan fiscal recommendations.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have agreed that Pennsylvania’s school funding formula is in dire need of an overhaul. As a result, Act 51 of 2014 established the Basic Education Funding Commission (BEFC), a fifteen member bicameral, bi-partisan committee with the sole purpose of determining how to better allocate local, state, and federal funds to public schools. During 2014 and 2015, the BEFC held fifteen hearings, received testimony from 110 individuals and solicited input from 125 schools. On June 18, 2015, the BEFC recommended the new Basic Education Funding Formula to the General Assembly. Over nine months later, Governor Wolf decided to veto the fiscal code bill containing the bi-partisan formula.
Using the Basic Education Formula, Philadelphia School District would receive $42.4 million, Pittsburgh school district would receive $3.1million, and Chester Upland would receive $2 million. Compared to Wolf’s unilateral funding plan, the bi-partisan formula allocates $53.1 million less to the three districts.
If Wolf’s plan succeeds, Pennsylvania homeowners already burdened with excessive property taxes can expect another increase.
Republicans say they will consider filing a lawsuit if Wolf follows through with his funding plan.
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