Advocacy Update: State Budget

The Pennsylvania Constitution requires the state to pass a budget by June 30theach year.  However, in the past few years, things haven’t quite worked out that way!

But, this year that all changed!

For the first time in Governor Wolf’s term, he signed a budget – but also signed it ahead of June 30th.  To many, it’s no surprise because we’re in the midst of an election year and Wolf along with members of the legislature want to make sure their names aren’t associated with budget issues or a budget that wasn’t enacted by June 30th.  And with the budget signed, the Pennsylvania legislature has essentialy headed home until the fall which means we won’t see action on other pieces of legislation.

We’ve listed many of the highlights as they relate to education below, but there are a few that stand out.  The first is an additional $100 million for the Basic Education Funding pot.  While we would argue that the $100 million addition is still not enough, we are pleased to see this funding enacted.  This additional funding was PMEA’s number one legislative priority this year.

The state has also created a $60 million dollar grant program for school safety.  We applaud this new funding stream as federal Title IV funding (that we continue to advise on how it can be used for music education) can also be used to support safe schools.  This new state $60 million grant program may help to free up pressures school districts are facing to use that federal Title IV funding for school safety and instead use it for enhancing a well-rounded education in areas like music and the arts.

Also of note, is that the Keystone Exam graduation requirement has been delayed until 2020-21.

Here are budget highlights relating to education.

PreK-12 Education

  • Basic Education will see an additional $100 million resulting in a record total of $6.095 billion
  • An increase of $20 million for Pre-K Counts, $5 million for Head Start and $21.6 million for Early Intervention
  • An additional allocation of $15 million for special education resulting in a total of $1.14 billion
  • A new $60 million grant program for an initiative to fight school violence. All school districts that have a valid application are guaranteed at least $25,000 in funding. The money can be used to make a wide variety of investments that will meet local districts’ needs, including building improvements, teacher training, counseling programs, school police, and much more.
  • $10 million for school safety
  • Expands the Educational Improvement Tax Credit by $25 million to $160 million which helps students attend private schools
  • The Pennsylvania State Police will establish three regional Risk and Vulnerability Assessment teams that would provide school districts with free school safety and security assessments
  • A school district may excuse a student from school to participate in a musical performance in conjunction with a national veterans’ organization for an event or funeral
  • Delays the Keystone Exam graduation requirement until the 2020-2021 school year


Higher Education

  • Increases aid for PA Smart that expands high-demand computer and industrial skills training in high schools and colleges by $40 million, or 62 percent, to $104 million
  • Penn State, Pitt, Temple and Lincoln Universities will see a 3 percent increase, which is $16.9 million more
  • The State System of Higher Education is receiving a 3.3 percent increase, or $15 million, for a total of $468 million
  • $6.963 million more for community colleges
  • PHEAA Institutional Assistance Grants will see a $772,000 increase

Other Legislative Notes

Another of PMEA’s legislative priorities this year is opposition to education savings accounts.  Senate Bill 2 is the current education savings account legislation.  SB2 made its way out of committee earlier this year but we are happy to report that the bill has not come before the full Senate for a vote. We will continue to monitor the legislation and provide updates and calls to action as necessary.

Senate Bill 1198, legislation that would have mandated continuing to label schools as successful or failing based primarily on students’ standardized test scores using the School Performance Profile (SPP), did not see action.

We have also been following a bill requiring a Civics education assessment which requires a school entity to administer a locally-developed civics education assessment, but passage of the test is not a graduation requirement. The assessment must be given at least once to students during grades 7-12, beginning in the 2020-21 school year. Schools may choose to use the civics portion of the naturalization test used by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services if they wish. Schools must issue a certificate of recognition to students who achieve a perfect score on the test. This legislation is notable because it creates a requirement in a non-tested subject area.  PMEA has explored the idea of some type of graduation requirement in the arts that would be mandated by the state.  We have been advised by policymakers over time that it would not be in our best interest to advocate for that at the state level but rather continue to push for it at the school district level.  The passage of this civics assessment requirement will further our conversations about how to proceed with a potential arts requirement.