Why the Budget Matters: Way No. 1 — Basic Education

Stephen Herzenberg |

The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center launched Why the Budget Matters – Let’s Count the Ways to compare specific funding choices and priorities in the budget Gov. Wolf unveiled in March and the Republican budget (HB 1192).

This series lets Pennsylvanians count for themselves the many ways that a sustainable investment budget will positively impact real people.

Way No. 1: Basic Education Funding

Wolf Budget Would Begin to Restore Educational Opportunity for All Pennsylvania Children

Republican budget would leave in place $500 million in 2011-12 classroom funding cuts, continuing class size increases and vital program eliminations

Gov. Wolf’s 2015-16 budget proposal would increase basic education funding by $410 million.

The Republican legislative majority budget would increase basic education funding by about a quarter as much – $100 million. The sustainable increase in funding is only $8 million, or $4.60 per student (versus $238 per student with the Wolf budget). [1] For a comparison by legislative district of the impact of the two budgets click here.

The Republican budget would leave in place about half a billion dollars in classroom funding cuts made in 2011-12.[2] Pennsylvania would likely continue to have the widest funding gap between wealthy and poor school districts of any state in the country.[3]

Since 2011, funding cuts across the commonwealth have caused school districts to close schools, increase class sizes and end music, arts and other educational enrichment and sports programs.[4] These cuts also led to 33,000 lost jobs in public education in Pennsylvania, slowing the state’s economic recovery.

The Republican budget would derail or scale back the plans of:

  • 209 school districts to establish or expand full-day kindergarten;
  • 120 school districts to expand tutoring and individualized assistance;
  • 107 school districts to reduce class sizes in grades K-3;
  • 93 school districts to restore art and music programs, library services and/or technology instruction cut during the past four years.[5]

It is also expected to lead 71 percent of school districts surveyed to raise local property taxes and 41 percent to reduce staff.[6]

Recognizing the need for increased school funding, Republican lawmakers have put forward a proposal that would increase education funding by $400 million. They have not specified a funding source.[7]

“Educational opportunity is a core American and Pennsylvania value, but even more, it is the foundation for a stronger and more productive economy. Research makes it clear that investments to provide equal opportunity for Pennsylvania’s students will generate billions for the state’s economy,” said Charlie Lyons of The Campaign for Fair Education Funding.  “A significant basic education funding increase of at least $410 million in this year’s budget is the right thing to do and the smart thing to do.”


[1] As well as $100 million for basic education funding, the Republican budget includes $20 million more for special education funding. Only $8 million of the $120 million for basic and special education is sustainable, however, because $112 million comes from delaying pension and Social Security payments to 2016-17. This one-time funding source would not be available in future years.

[2] The estimate of “about half a billion dollars” is based on the following. As of 2014-15, classroom funding remained $572 million below its 2010-11 levels (see Pennsylvania Department of Education data for 2010-14 here; 2014-15 classroom funding data from the Governor’s Budget Office). In 2015-16 under the Republican budget, counting the entire $120 million for basic and special education would still leave a shortfall of $452 million in classroom funding; counting only the $8 million of this $120 million that is sustainable funding leaves a shortfall that still exceeds half a billion.

[3] Emma Brown, “In 23 states, richer school districts get more local funding than poorer districts,” Washington Post,http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/local/wp/2015/03/12/in-23-states-richer-school-districts-get-more-local-funding-than-poorer-districts/

[4] See A Strong State Commitment to Education: A Must Have for Pennsylvania’s Children, April 2014, online at  https://pennbpc.org/sites/pennbpc.org/files/20140429schoolreport.pdf

[6] Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators (PASA) & Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials (PASBO). “Continued Cuts: The PASA-PASBO Report on School District Budgets.” June 2015 http://goo.gl/1LKeM9

[7] Jan Murphy, “Wolf weighs GOP offer that includes $400 million for schools,” Patriot-News, August 19, 2015, http://www.pennlive.com/politics/index.ssf/2015/08/wolf_weighs_gop_offer_that_inc.html