Advocacy Update

Pennsylvania Budget Update

The 2017-2018 state budget is finally finished.  While a spending plan for the budget was enacted four months ago, an agreement on how to pay for that spending didn’t come together until just days ago.  Lawmakers were tasked with filling a $2 billion budget shortfall for this year’s spending plan.  The plan adds $100 million to the basic education subsidy.  While any addition is nice, that still doesn’t bring funding back to the level prior to the massive education cuts in 2011.  The spending plan this year used one-time transfers, a gambling expansion and borrowing to fill the budget gap.  Balancing a budget based on borrowing isn’t exactly sound fiscal policy.  However, policy makers saw this as the only way to complete the budget.  Talks of expanding a tax on Marcellus shale drilling have been promised but did not happen in time to be included in this year’s budget talks.

Looking ahead to the 2018-2019 budget (Governor Wolf will deliver his budget address in February), things look tough again.  Projections show a $1 billion budget shortfall.  While that is less than this year, there’s no question that it will be complicated to pass a budget without some type of shale tax or broad based tax – especially in an election year.  We would expect to see Governor Wolf again propose additional funding for education.  Where that money will come from is unknown.  PMEA will continue to advocate for additional education funding in 2018.

Pennsylvania ESSA Plan

There is not much news to report here.  Our state plan has been accepted as complete by the US Department of Education.  It’s currently under review with dozens of other state plans that were submitted in September.  Once a plan is approved, PMEA will provide guidance to members on how to leverage areas of the plan for music and arts education.  An area of particular interest in the law is TItle IV.  We’ve begun conversations with the Pennsylvania Department of Education on how funding will be distributed to school districts.  As the federal government budget season heats up, it’s important for you to pay attention to NAfME advocacy alerts to increase federal Title IV dollars.  That money flows directly to school districts and can be used for music and arts education.  We’ll provide more information as we get further clarification from PDE and once the state ESSA plan is approved.

Pennsylvania School Code

As part of the package of budget related bills, Governor Wolf allowed the school code to become law without his signature.  Changes of note in the school code include:

  • School districts now will be able to cite “economic reasons” as a rationale for furloughing teachers
  • Previously, any layoffs had to be done in inverse order of seniority – last in, first out. Under the new law, schools must instead prioritize the state’s teacher effectiveness rating system, which is based on a mix of classroom observations and student performance on state standardized tests
  • Again pushing back a requirement for students to pass standardized tests to graduate from high school
  • Expanding student education on the opioid crisis
  • Banning the practice of denying school lunch to students without money to pay for it

Property Tax Amendment

You may remember the email I sent to you prior to last week’s election about the proposed amendment to the PA Constiution.  The amendment, which lays the groundwork to change the property tax system in the commonwealth, passed with a majority voting to approve it.  The amendment now allows the General Assembly to create legislation that would allows local taxing authorities, like school districts, to exclude up to 100% of the assesed value of homes from property taxes.  Don’t expect an immediate change to the property tax system.  New revenue would have to be created to make up for the lost property tax income.  Also, it’s not likely that school districts would take advantage of a new law, if enacted, as they can currently exclude up to 50% of the median assessed value of homes and most districts currently exclude a far smaller amount.

Governor’s Race

You may have seen ads on television already touting Governor Wolf’s record while in office.  That is our first reminder that a gubernatorial election is in the horizon. As of today, these Republicans have declared their candidacy to run against Wolf:

  • Laura Ellsworth, attorney
  • Paul Mango, businessman
  • Mike Turzai, Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives
  • Scott Wagner, State Senator

Expect to see more attention given to the lieutenant governor’s race this year.  Following the controversy about spending by current lieutenant governor, Mike Stack, three other democrats have already entered the race.