Gov. Wolf proposes more K-12 funds for next budget
February 2, 2016 11:19 PM
Matt Rourke/Associated Press
Gov. Tom Wolf
By Karen Langley / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
READING, Pa. — With his first state budget still incomplete, Gov. Tom Wolf said Tuesday that his second budget address will feature a renewed call for increases in state funding for K-12 education, both in the current fiscal year and the next.
After touring classrooms at an elementary school here, Mr. Wolf announced that his budget proposal Feb. 9 will assume an increase of $377 million to the main K-12 education line in the current year’s still-incomplete state budget and then add $200 million — a 3.3 percent increase — in the fiscal year that will begin July 1.
“In the budget that I’m going to propose on Tuesday, I’m not asking for a lot,” Mr. Wolf said. “I’m not asking for other things. I’m really going to focus on public education.”
He said Pennsylvanians have a shared responsibility to ensure that schools have adequate funding.
Along with other disagreements, the Democratic governor’s calls for increased school funding and the Republican-led General Assembly’s resistance to raising taxes have left Pennsylvania without a full state budget seven months into the fiscal year.
Legislative Republicans did not see Mr. Wolf’s proposal as narrowing the divide.
“This week he is doubling down on his failures to provide leadership on accomplishing a bipartisan budget agreement by asking for even more taxpayer money without addressing the changes needed for long-term relief for Pennsylvania schools,” Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, said in a statement.
Steve Miskin, spokesman for House Republicans, said: “He’s asking for more spending when he hasn’t even completed this year’s budget.”
Late last year, Mr. Wolf and Republican leaders appeared close to a deal that would have increased education funding and enacted changes sought by Republicans to the state retirement systems for state and public school workers and to the state system of alcohol sales.
Mr. Wolf described the $377 million increase he is proposing for the current year as the amount in that framework agreement. Mr. Miskin said the tentative agreement called for a $350 million boost, but he added: “The framework no longer exists. It’s dead.”
In late December, Mr. Wolf signed into law much of a Republican-passed budget but vetoed significant portions in an attempt to keep negotiations going and because he said the plan did not balance.
His line-item vetoes left schools with about six months of the main K-12 funding line, while social services like county child welfare and rape crisis received full funding.
Education groups praised the idea of getting regular funding back in place, although some said Mr. Wolf’s proposal did not go far enough.
“Despite the differences among the various parties, we hope all can agree that adequate funding is needed now as we near eight months without a state budget,” Nathan Mains, executive director of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, said in a statement.
In Pittsburgh, Allies for Children executive director Patrick Dowd said the governor’s proposal for a $200 million increase was not enough.
“This proposal will not help us reach our long-term goal,” Mr. Dowd said in a statement. “We must make significant, long-term and equitable investment in public schools beginning with this fiscal year and continuing that investment in the 2016-17 budget.”
Mr. Wolf is scheduled to deliver his budget address Feb. 9. His office has said that he will again call for the enactment of a severance tax on natural gas drilling. And he will preview his proposal for early childhood education funding later this week, according to his spokesman, Jeffrey Sheridan.
Karen Langley: firstname.lastname@example.org, 717-787-2141 or on Twitter @karen_langley.
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