Remarks by Marc Stier, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Policy Center, at a PA School Work press conference in support of the House passed budget for 2023-2024
In March, Governor Shapiro put forward a proposed budget that many of us said had the right priorities but did not offer enough funding for critical needs, including K-12 education. Last week, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed a budget—with the support of Governor Shapiro—that added funding in many of those critical areas.
The House budget adds the basic education fund to the governor’s proposal. It includes new funding for the Level Up program, which provides additional money for the 108 least-well-funded school districts and adds money for special education and for repairing toxic schools. The House budget, which Governor Shapiro embraced, is a good down payment on what the state ultimately must do to meet the constitutional and moral requirements to fully and fairly fund our schools.
The additional funding in the House budget for education and other needs is made possible by the new revenue budget estimates provided by the Independent Fiscal Office. The IFO projects that the state will have almost a billion dollars more for the current and next fiscal years than the governor projected in March. At end of this fiscal year, on June 30th, the state will have a $13 billion accumulated surplus including the Rainy Day Fund and the General Fund surplus. If the House budget is adopted, the state will still have a $10.5 billion surplus on June 30th next year.
Contrary to some critics’ opinions of the House-passed budget, it does not reduce Rainy Day Fund but adds a bit more than $500 million to it. The House budget, like the Governor’s budget and any other budget that will be enacted this year, does draw down the accumulated General Fund surplus. That is exactly what it should do. The General Fund surplus is a product of tight budgets during the pandemic, federal pandemic aid, and a faster-than-expected recovery from the recession created by the pandemic. It was created by our tax dollars, and it should be used to support the needs of the state as identified by the people of Pennsylvania.
And that is what the House budget proposal does, as shown by the result of a poll carried out by Data for Progress last week.
The poll shows that 64% of Pennsylvania voters believe we are facing a severe teacher shortage in the state, and 69% of them believe that there are significant differences in education quality provided by public schools across Pennsylvania because some schools do not receive enough funding.
That does not mean that Pennsylvanians oppose our public school system. By a 26-point margin, Pennsylvania voters don’t want to replace our existing public school system with private schools funded by vouchers. Rather, they understand that our schools are not, but should be, fairly and adequately funded: 67% believe state government should be doing more to ensure that public schools are sufficiently funded, and 66% think that state government should be doing more to ensure that public schools are equally funded.
The Pennsylvania House budget passed last week does exactly what voters want— it takes a critical step forward in fully and fairly funding our schools.