Governor outlines education funding plan

February 8, 2019 Cranberry Local News

The education promises in Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed state budget look meager in Butler County.

Wolf proposed a budget without a tax increase that still manages to increase basic education spending by more than 3 percent. How? By including funds that schools already have received as money they’re getting, according to Brian White, Butler School District’s superintendent.

“Members of the public look and see a $1.5 million increase,” White said. “They don’t realize it’s only a $364,000 increase.”

The proposed budget increase “includes $241,999,000 previously appropriated as Ready to Learn Block Grant” money, according to new information published on the Pennsylvania Department of State’s website.

During a meeting of the Mars School Board on Tuesday, Superintendent Wesley Shipley, said the district will receive a roughly $81,000 increase in overall education funds. He said the line item shows a roughly $320,000 increase, but that number is deceptive due to the Ready to Learn Block Grant money being rolled into the overall budget.

“Actually that is better for us because it eliminates the paperwork,” he said of the move. “The money is still going to go into the same pot as it has anyway.”

Reynelle Brown Staley, a policy attorney at the Pennsylvania Education Law Center, called the announced numbers “kind of deceiving.” The center is part of an educational advocacy movement called PA Schools Works, which the Butler school board formally supported in a resolution it passed last week.

Staley said she was happy to see increases in the budget, but she’s not so happy about their scope. Wolf announced a $200 million basic education increase, but Staley said only about $168 million is new money. It’s far short of the $400 million increase PA Schools Works recommended.

“We’re disappointed,” Staley said. “We don’t think these amounts are actually going to move the needle on education issues for the districts in Butler or elsewhere.”

Special education funding, which a study Staley authored last year indicates is falling drastically below costs, was increased by about $50 million, compared with the advocacy group’s $100 million.

“These aren’t increases that are actually going to reach classrooms and make sure students are getting textbooks,” she said.

Shipley said the district special education budget will increase by $18,000. However, he said its special education program grew this year by 79 students, and that money, “won’t go very far for us.”

In his budget address, Wolf declared education funding a priority. Children, he said, “deserve to enter a public schools system that isn’t just adequate.”

Wolf proposed increasing the state’s minimum salary for teachers to $45,000. Legislation currently sets the minimum at $18,500. The salary average for Pennsylvania is about $44,000, according to 2016 figures that are the National Educational Association’s most recent numbers.

Cranberry Bureau Chief J.W. Johnson Jr. contributed to this report.