HARRISBURG, Pa. – Last week, the Democratic-controlled House sent its $46.4 billion budget for Fiscal Year 2023-24 to the Senate. Today, education funding advocates and Democrats called on the Senate to support the funding increases in that budget.
“We want to be clear on what’s important to us, and that’s the investment that will pay dividends for generations. That’s an investment in our children,” said Rep. Jordan Harris (D-Philadelphia), Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. “You can’t just talk about our children being our future. You’ve got to fund like the children are our future,” Harris added.
House Democrats used a one-seat majority to pass House Bill 611, their version of the general fund budget. Their proposal looks to spend over $1 billion more than that of Governor Shapiro’s.
HB 611 takes Shapiro’s education proposals one step further by adding another $100 million, on top of the nearly $800 million proposed by Shapiro, for K-12 basic education funding. Unlike Shapiro’s proposal, HB 611 includes $225 million for Level Up, an initiative designed to assist the poorest 100 school districts in the commonwealth. $250 million are also included in HB 611 for improving facilities and modernizing schools.
“In total, a billion new dollars for public education in this Commonwealth,” said Harris, who added that Pennsylvania is well equipped financially for the investments.
“When you look at what we anticipated as far as revenue, just in the month of March alone, $499 million more came in for revenue than we anticipated. More money came in as well in the month of April. So much so, that we’re well over $1,000,000,000 what we anticipated. That’s important because we know that with those dollars, we could invest significantly more in Pennsylvanians,” said Harris.
Advocates call the House Democrats’ budget a step in the right direction. Executive Director of the Education Law Center of PA, Deborah Gordon Klehr, views it as a necessary downpayment.
“The budget passed by the House is the minimum necessary to demonstrate that the General Assembly understands the scope of their historic failure and their obligation to fix the system for future generations,” said Gordon Klehr. “Our students are looking to the Pennsylvania Senate to comply with their constitutional obligations and ensure their access to a bright future,” she added.
For leaders in the Republican-controlled Senate, the House budget is a stretch.
“The number that the House sent to us is an impossible number to have under consideration,” said Senate Majority Leader Joe Pittman (R-41). “It’s a massive deviation from what even the governor proposed,” he added.
Pittman says the final product will contain education increases and emphasized important components to education funding, like increases for mental health and school safety.
“We will invariably increase investment in education,” said Pittman. “I also recognize that mental health and school safety pieces are something that we need to have a conversation about for public and nonpublic forms of education,” Pittman added.
This will be the first budget cycle after Commonwealth Court determined Pennsylvania’s education funding system is unconstitutional. Advocates hope the 2023-24 budget will reflect that decision.
“The Commonwealth Court decision is a historic decision that requires a historic response, and we’re looking to the legislature to finally provide an adequate and equitable funding system that’s constitutionally compliant,” said Gordon-Klehr.