Read Our Analysis of PA Governor’s Race and the PA US Senate Race

by Mark Despotakis, PMEA Advocacy Council Chair

In the late summer/early fall, PMEA reached out to all candidates running for Governor of Pennsylvania as well as the Pennsylvania US Senate race. To our surprise, we did not receive the level or participation as we did in the previous election cycle.  We have provided a list of questions posed to candidates and responses from the candidates that answered at the bottom of this article.

You will note that no major party candidate in either race responded to our questions.  Again, that is surprising based on the previous election cycle.  In lieu of their response, we are going to provide an analysis of where the major party candidates stand on issues relevant to PMEA members.  Please note, in any analysis, there is more information available on what an incumbent has already done in office.  Effort has been made to share available and relevant information.

At the bottom of this page, you can also see exactly what will appear on the ballot in your location.


If you’ve been following the race between Governor Tom Wolf (D) and former State Senator Scott Wagner (R), you know that education has come up quite a bit.

Governor Wolf has campaigned on the education record of his first term and additions to education funding that have come with that record. Many would argue that when Wolf entered office, he inherited a political hot potato when it came to K-12 education. There were issues of a lack of funding (mainly a cut of around one billion dollars) that many blame on the Corbett administration. Some argue this wasn’t an actual cut based on the source of the money.  Without delving into the policy weeds, the reality is that schools opened the 2011-2012 school year with one billion dollars less than they did the previous year. Wolf campaigned on restoring these cuts and essentially did that.  But, it’s important to point out a few facts.

  1. He didn’t do it alone – he had to have the support of the Republican controlled General Assembly.
  2. It took four years of incremental increases and all of the funding did not go directly to the Basic Education Formula, which is the pot of money that would have the most direct impact on music programs.
  3. Wolf also did not sign every budget into law. Wagner makes this point in an effort to paint Wolf as not actually supporting those increases.  However, budgets become law without the signature of the Governor as long as it is not vetoed within ten days.

Another notable education policy during Wolf’s first term is the implementation of a new funding formula.  The complex formula aims to distribute funding to all of Pennsylvania’s school districts in an equitable way.  Again, it’s important to note that Wolf did not create and implement this formula himself.  It came after the extensive work of a special funding commission and a vote of the General Assembly.

The devil is in the details.  While there was uniform praise for the formula in principle, there have been some complaints about how the formula is implemented.  In an effort to not shock some school districts and provide them a funding level vastly different from their previous year allocation, the formula is incremental and only applies to “new” money added to the state Basic Education Funding subsidy.  Some argue the plan is inefficient because of the small amount of “new” money going into the formula – which currently is under 10% of the roughly $6 billion spent on the Basic Education Funding subsidy.

Wolf made headlines in August after a report by WHYY-FM quoted Wolf as saying the state needs “a fair funding formula for all dollars going into public education.”

Wolf has not made any statements that he wanted to move the current funding formula and immediately implement it for all schools but has said he supports the current implementation of the formula and continued increases to education funding. Wolf’s staff says he would support using the funding formula for all state basic education money only if there is enough money in the system to make sure no district is harmed – though there has been no specific clarification on what dollar amount they think that would be.

Wolf did propose raising state taxes on sales and personal income and implementing a severance tax on natural gas drilling as ways to increase education funding during his first term. While those proposals never came to fruition, they would likely be proposals in a second Wolf term.

Wagner attacked Wolf for the comments arguing that an immediate implementation of the formula for all state funding to schools would cause drastic reductions in funding for many districts including many rural ones.

Wolf has not stated how much he would propose raising education funding if he is re-elected or how he would raise more for any increases but rather points to his record of raising education funding and that he would continue to fight for more funding.

Another major education policy issue that came about during Wolf’s first term was the passage of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).  While the law isn’t directly impacted by the Governor – it is indirectly impacted. The law is enacted in Pennsylvania by the Department of Education (PDE) with Secretary Pedro Rivera leading that implementation.  PMEA has worked with PDE staff to ensure music and arts are a part of the implementation of the state ESSA plan – especially in the Title IV, Part A funding stream. While PDE has not implemented every one of our recommendations, they have been very responsive to our comments and suggestions.

On the other side of the ticket, Wagner has also made education a key issue in his campaign. Wagner’s plan is to add an additional $1 billion of education funding for all of our schools without raising taxes. This $1 billion increase will be comprised of an increase of $700 million into the basic education funding and two new block grants of $150 million each.

Wagner proposes to add this money to the budget without raising taxes.  Many see that as political rhetoric and easier said than done.  Citing “belt-tightening” as one of the ways to add money to the education pot, Wagner has even cited solving the problem by consolidating the number of coffee pots in state offices based on how many half full pots are emptied out each night, and eliminating unused computers and their software licenses.

Other ways Wagner proposes funding education spending is the privatization of the sale of alcohol, lease the liquor wholesale system, slash corporate welfare “that has no positive economic impact,” and reform the welfare system.

One of the block grants Wagner proposes is similar to the Race to the Top grants that came at the federal level during the Obama administration.  The grants would be awarded to school districts “that use evidence-backed reforms to implement curricula that will ensure high school graduates are college and career ready. Evidence-based reforms can include STEM based-programs, cooperative learning curricula, and job readiness beyond college prep.”  The other block grant would direct money toward highly rated teachers.

Wolf and Wagner have sparred over Wagner’s proposal and if Wagner’s numbers truly add up as a viable way to increase spending without a new income source.

It’s also notable that during the primary, Wagner said he believes the state spends “enough money” on schools but now that we’re into the general election season, Wagner has changed that position.

As a general foundation for his whole budget strategy, Wagner says he will implement zero-based budgeting which calls for a line by line justification of each expense the state makes.

Wagner also would propose eliminating property taxes levied at the school district level and shifting that funding source to an increase in the state sales and personal income tax.  This is not a new proposal as it has floated around Harrisburg before including a bill co-sponsored by Wagner. If this change would be enacted, Harrisburg would control the flow of nearly all dollars going to school districts.

Unfortunately, without answers to PMEA’s questions, it is hard for us to analyze was a Wagner PDE would look like – especially when it comes to ESSA implementation.


Providing some analysis of the US Senate race between incumbent Senator Bob Casey (D) and challenger Rep. Lou Barletta (R Pa-11) is a little tougher since most of the policy impacting music and arts education in Pennsylvania comes from the state government.  However, we do have some information that’s relevant.

The most impactful piece of education policy from the federal level is the re-authorization of the federal law impacting education – the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 – recently known as No Child Left Behind and known as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in current form.  ESSA became law in late 2015 with both Casey and Barletta voting for passage.

Casey had a major role in shaping the law as a member of the Senate HELP (Health, Labor, Education and Pension) Committee. Casey’s office was influential in crafting the “well-rounded” provision of the law which is the new name for core academic subjects.  Not only is well-rounded the new name, it now also includes music as a named subject in federal law.  That is extremely significant for a variety of reasons, but mainly because of funding opportunities opened up for music programs in Title I and Title IV of the law. Casey has also been supportive of increasing Title IV funding in the law – which PMEA and NAfME has advocated for as well.

Barletta also voted to pass ESSA in 2010.  He focused on the value of the 21stCentury Community Learning Centers provision of ESSA which reauthorizes federal funding for after school programs and the flexibility of funding ESSA offers states and school districts.

Both Barletta and Casey supported the increase in Title IV, Part A funds in the fiscal year 2019 spending plan signed by President Trump in September.  Title IV, Part A is a funding source that is particularly important to music and arts educators with funding available for a well-rounded education.

All candidates for Governor and US Senate were sent a set of questions from PMEA.  Here are those questions and the responses we received.

Candidates for Governor

1) Research reveals strong correlations between quality music education in school and academic achievement, healthy social development, and preparation for the 21st century workplace. What is your position on the importance of maintaining strong music education in Pennsylvania schools? What role would you play in encouraging school districts to give music the same support as other subjects?

Ken Krawchuk Libertarian for Pennsylvania Governor:It’s time to end the one-size-fits-none approach to setting curriculum, especially where it comes to the arts.  Under the Libertarian plan for Pennsylvania’s schools, parents would be empowered to choose any government school for their child, and the funding which would have gone to the local school would follow the child to the school of the parent’s choice.  That way good schools would get more funding and grow, while poor schools would lose enrollments and be shut down.  So for the same educational dollar, we can improve education in Pennsylvania.

That said, it would not be up to politicians or bureaucrats to decide if any given subject would or would not be taught; rather, it would be up to the parents.  If they believe that music, arts, sports, or whatever is important, they’ll choose the school that caters to their desire.  Arguments over funding this program over that one would no longer be necessary.  In the end there would be exactly what the parents want, and it’s their opinion that is most important.  As governor, I’ll work to support the parents, not special interests or the unelected Board of Education in Harrisburg.

2) New federally passed legislation, The Every Student Succeeds Act, gives much educational control back to the states and also lists music as a “well-rounded” subject. What are your thoughts on how Pennsylvania will continue to implement the Every Student Succeeds Act?

Ken Krawchuk Libertarian for Pennsylvania Governor:In general, I oppose federal meddling when it comes to any Pennsylvania policy, including education.  I also oppose Harrisburg meddling, and would work to end it as described in the previous answer.  It should be up to the parents to choose—or not choose—a school for their children that follows the federal diktats.

3) In current economic times, school districts have to make tough budgetary decisions. In some instances, music and the arts are the first programs cut from a school district budget. What will you do to encourage school districts to adequately fund music and arts programs?

Ken Krawchuk Libertarian for Pennsylvania Governor:Please see my response to question #1 above.  It would be up to the parents to encourage school districts, and history shows their overwhelming support for programs beyond the “three R’s”.

4) Charter schools are often listed as a major concern among public school districts. Originally designed to be schools where new and innovative teaching practices are implemented, charters are now a widespread alternative to public schools. What is your stance on charters, how they are funded and how they are held accountable?

Ken Krawchuk Libertarian for Pennsylvania Governor:Not meaning to be repetitive, but please see my response to question #1 above.  I do not plan to be any sort of a dictator implementing what I believe to be done, or cave in to any special interests and force on Pennsylvania what they think needs to be done.  Once parents are empowered to choose schools, rather than seeing their children forced into a given school by geography, instead there would be the ultimate accountability: being accountable to the parents.

Candidates for US Senate

1) Research reveals strong correlations between quality music education in school and academic achievement, healthy social development, and preparation for the 21st century workplace. What is your position on the importance of maintaining strong music education in Pennsylvania schools? What role would you play in encouraging school districts to give music the same support as other subjects?

Neal Gale Green Party Candidate for US Senate:I would speak out on maintaining a strong music curriculum throughout Pennsylvania schools and support legislation to direct federal funding to underwrite such curricula, especially where current funding has forced a reduction in music classes to unsustainable levels. I believe music has an enduring, positive impact on childhood development, enhancing a student’s appreciation of all academic disciplines as well as their sense of self in the world. 

2) New federally passed legislation, The Every Student Succeeds Act, gives much educational control back to the states and also lists music as a “well-rounded” subject. What are your thoughts on the role of the federal government and the US Department of Education in public education? And what is your position on funding made available from the federal level through this federal legislation?

Neal Gale Green Party Candidate for US Senate: I believe the Federal government has a significant role to play in supporting our public education system, pre-school through college. I agree with the goals of the ESSA, requiring self-direction from the states, and providing funding for acceptable plans. I am concerned, however, with the current Dept of Education leadership’s plans to shift public funding to a voucher system that would take money away from some of our public schools. 

3) In current economic times, school districts have to make tough budgetary decisions. In some instances, music and the arts are the first programs cut from a school district budget. What will you do to encourage school districts to adequately fund music and arts programs?

Neal Gale Green Party Candidate for US Senate:I would offer legislation to more adequately fund our public schools across the country, so that school districts don’t have to make such draconian decisions, leaving our students under-educated. I would stress to educators that music and arts are not secondary attributes in life, and certainly should not be considered as such in our educational planning. 

4) Charter schools are often listed as a major concern among public school districts. Originally designed to be schools where new and innovative teaching practices are implemented, charters are now a widespread alternative to public schools. What is your stance on charters, how they are funded and how they are held accountable?

Neal Gale Green Party Candidate for US Senate:I believe charter schools still have a place in the public school system, provided they remain within the stream of public funding and don’t become vouchered out of reach of any of our students. And as with much of our public school funding, funding for charter schools falls into the trap of scarcity thinking. We have become used to regarding the available monies for all school budgets as competing within the education system. And therefore we always come up short and consequently, must cut programs. Often this falls heaviest on the districts with the least resources. I believe education should be at the top of our priorities and rather than find ways to continually reduce our educational goals, we need to rethink where we are spending our money. I will support the re-allocation of monies in the federal budget from military expenditures to educational needs. 

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.

PMEA Interviews An Olympic Level Music Education Advocate

Watch the 2018 PMEA Music Education Advocacy Day Press Conference

PMEA held a press conference on March 13, 2018 celebrating Music In Our Schools Month and discussing PMEA’s 2018 policy asks.

Speakers Include:

Mark Despotakis, PMEA Advocacy Council Chair
Chris Martin, Martin Guitar
Rich Askey, PSEA Vice President
Jenkintown High School Students
Benjamin Snyder, PCMEA (Collegiate) President
Tooshar Swain, NAfME Legislative Policy Advisor
Henry Pearlberg, PMEA President

Learn How To Use Federal ESSA Funds To Help Your Music Education Program

With the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), new funding opportunities are available that could directly benefit music education.  One of those is in Title IV of the law and known as Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants (SSAEG).

ESSA eliminated what we knew as “core” academic subjects and created what we now know as “well-rounded” subject areas.  Music has, for the first time, been called out in federal law as a well-rounded subject.  The SSAEG grants are designed to be used to ensure a well-rounded education and that means music is a part of it.

It’s important for music educators to explore using these funds because:

  1. Any additional funds can be helpful to music education programs
  2. Proving the value of this new funding stream may serve to increase the amount of funding in the future
  3. By asking for funding, you may find your administration will find ways to fund your program, even if it’s isn’t through these federal funds

Each state will have a different process to gain access to these funds.  We have reviewed the way the Pennsylvania Department of Education will distribute these funds and compiled a to do list for music educators to attempt to use some of this funding for music education in their district.

We’ve spelled out the process in detail to help you get money for your music program.  You can download a PDF of the process below.  Here’s a quick rundown:

  1. Conduct a “needs assessment” to determine in what areas your program can be improved
  2. Present a case to your administration that you can use this SSAEG money for things or experiences that your district’s regular budget doesn’t support
  3. Provide supporting information to your adminsitration so they can include it on their Pennsylvania federal funds application

A list of suggested areas for funding and more on the specific process is available on the PDF below.

How To Use Federal Title IV Funds for Music Education in Pennsylvania – July 2019 Update (PDF)

Edinboro University’s Decision to Cut Music Education Not Smart in Today’s Job Climate

Mark Despotakis

Director of Market Development, Progressive Music
Advocacy Chair, Pennsylvania Music Educators Association

In response to articles on and in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, we offer the following response to to proposal to disolve the music education program at Edinboro University.

Disturbing news came out of Edinboro Univeristy last month.  The school plans to phase out their music education program.  Edinboro has graduated some of Pennsylvania’s finest music educators over the years and a suggestion that there is a lack of jobs for current graduates leaves a question about the conclusion to disband the program.

First, some background on where we are when it comes to music education in our current economic and political climate.

We find ourselves in the midst of a sea-change in K-12 education policy and practice.  In December of 2015, President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) into law.  The law is a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, most recently known as No Child Left Behind.  It took nearly a decade to get ESSA as the law of the land.  It took input from stakeholders from every corner of the education world.  And now that the law is in place, states are working to implement the law.  Pennsylvania spent over a year working on a plan that was released in August.  The plan now awaits federal approval before implementation starts.

Like the federal government, Pennsylvania sought feedback from many areas of the education world.  A tour around the state earlier this year explained what the Pennsylvania plan would do and the public was able to provide input at many stages of the plan’s journey to its completion.

We won’t explain all the parts of ESSA here (after all the federal plan is over 1,000 pages and the state plan is over 100) but we use the story of ESSA to illustrate the importance of K-12 education and the importance of getting it right.  Lots of voices have debated, provided input and been heard to come up with the plan we know today as ESSA.  Why?  Because, it’s clear education is important.  It’s clear a strong K-12 education is important to our society and it’s clear many people care enough about that to lobby and advocate for many of the changes made as we moved from No Child Left Behind to the Every Student Succeeds Act.

One of the changes of particular importance in ESSA is the move from the term “core academic subjects” to “well-rounded education.”  That change signifies that we need to prepare students for an ever-changing world as they enter the work force as well as prepare them to become an active member of society and culture.  In creating the “well-rounded” term, Congress did another important thing, among 17 subjects listed under this banner, one sticks out to us – music.

By naming music as a well-rounded subject, Congress reminds us of what we already know: 1) every child should have access to a complete education that includes music and 2) in order to become a well-rounded citizen, students should participate in some form of music education.

This is all good news for the music education community which is why we’re surprised and concerned to hear that Edinboro University plans to phase out their music education degree.  As we move into the ESSA era for education, we anticipate there will be a greater demand for music education in our K-12 schools.  Not only through language in federal and state law, but also with dollars that follow the law, schools will have the chance to enhance their well-rounded offerings and that will include music.  The demand for highly-qualified music educators will be greater than ever.

In addition, schools across Pennsylvania are facing a teacher shortage. And beyond that, they’re facing a substitute teacher shortage.  It’s a hidden fact, but all across Pennsylvania, there just aren’t enough teachers.  In many schools, teachers are pulled to cover other classes when another teacher is absent for the day.  This tends to adversely affect music, arts, computer science and physical education teachers.

The problem of teachers being pulled from their subject area to cover classes in another subject area is concerning on its own.  But, it serves to illustrate a very important point.  The teaching profession is in need of qualified teachers graduating from colleges and universities.

Some have argued that shuttering the music education program at Edinboro University is necessary because there aren’t teaching jobs available.  That simply isn’t the case.  Between the 2012-2013 school years and the 2014-2015 school years, the Pennsylvania Department of Education saw a 62 percent drop in Pennsylvania residents seeking teacher certifications — from 16,361 to 6,215.  School officials routinely report how difficult it is to find candidates to fill full-time teaching positions and substitute positions.

And while that might be anecdotal for the state of Pennsylvania, we have documented need for music educators in 20 states in the country through the subject area statewide shortage list maintained by the U.S. Department of Education in order to determine student loan forgiveness eligibility. That list includes several states right next to PA – Ohio, Maryland, and Delaware – where music education students could find employment immediately due to systematic documented teacher shortages. 

Here is a full list of states with documented music teacher shortages in 2016/2017:
New Hampshire
North Dakota
Rhode Island
South Carolina
South Dakota
West Virginia

In short, let me make this clear: if you have your music education license and you are willing to move for a job, THERE IS A JOB FOR YOU IN THE UNITED STATES. 20 states currently have documented teacher shortages and we sense Pennsylvania isn’t far off from being added to the list – so you may also get some of your student loans forgiven.  For how many other undergraduate degrees can you make that claim – unequivocally? While we as a country like to joke about “the starving, unemployed artist” that is not the case for music educators. The jobs are there. The number of jobs is projected to grow. And this is a wonderful profession to join – to bring music into the lives of children and help them embrace their creativity, their expressive joy, and engage with their fellow students, school and community.

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.

Learn About Pennsylvania’s Proposed Property Tax Constitutional Amendment

On Tuesday, November 7th, we’ll head to the polls to vote on a variety of offices including judicial races.  You’ll see a question on the ballot about a proposed amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution.  It’s important to be aware of this ballot question and potential ramifications it would have on education funding.

First, a quick background. An amendment to the PA Constitution can happen when both chambers of the General Assembly vote affirmatively on the amendment in two consecutive sessions.  After that, the amendment is put to a vote of the electorate.  And, that’s where we are in the process.  The General Assembly has voted in the affirmative in the past two sessions and now you have the chance to have your say.

The proposed amendment would allow the state constitution to be amended to permit the General Assembly to enact legislation allowing local taxing authorities to exclude from taxation up to 100% of the assessed value of each homestead property within a taxing jurisdiction.

What that means is that by voting yes, you are allowing our legislature to pass legislation that would allow any local taxing authority, like a school district, to increase up to 100% of the assessed value of a home as excluded from paying taxes.  Currently, these local taxing authorities can reduce up to 50% of the assessed median value of a home from taxes.  It’s important to note the percent currently reduced by this law is different in every school district.

This amendment is an attempt to reform property taxes which are the main way our schools are funded.  If a majority of Pennsylvanians vote to approve this amendment, nothing changes on November 8th.  Voting yes allows the General Assembly to draft legislation that would then allow local taxing authorities to change the percentage of their local exclusions.

Here’s a very important point to know. Changes to the local exclusion rate can be provided only if enabling legislation is signed into law, and if the state can provide revenue to fund the increased homestead exclusion. It is important to be aware that, even if legislation is enacted, these homestead exclusions are only possible if there is some source of new revenue to fund them. And based on how we’ve seen budgets at the state and local levels play out this year, that’s not a simple task.

Many advocates for voting yes on this amendment see it as eliminating property taxes and thus lowering taxes.  That’s not likely given that any money lost from this legislation would have to be made up to continue education and other public services.  Eliminating property taxes without a way to replace that funding would create a new problem.  Some speculate that it’s possible funding would be made up from increases in broad based taxes like sales or wage tax.

There is a separate bill in Harrisburg already to completely eliminate property taxes and replace them with a sales and wage tax increase.  That bill is separate of this amendment as this amendment does not eliminate property taxes – rather it would allow for their reduction.

Learn More About Property Tax Reform

Text of the Proposed Constitutional Amendment

Text of SB76 to Eliminate Property Taxes

Information On The Pennsylvania State ESSA Plan

Public Policy Update

Pennsylvania Has A Budget (Sort Of)
On Friday, the Pennsylvania General Assembly sent
Governor Tom Wolf a $32 billion budget. However, the House and Senate sent the spending plan to the Governor but did not send the plan with the associated funding plan. It’s unclear if Governor Wolf will sign the budget into law without the spending bill in place. Lawmakers won’t return until at least Wednesday to figure out how to cover the over $2 billion deficit in the budget.
Broad based tax increases seem off the table but finding some sustainable revenue seems to be the goal.  Among the areas still under consideration to find new revenue are: adding video gaming terminals across the state, a tax on gas drilling or borrowing the money.
Highlights of the budget include:
  • A $100 million increase for the basic education subsidy
  • A $25 million increase for special education
  • A $30 million increase for Pre-K
  • Governor Wolf’s proposal of a $50 million decrease for school transportation is not included in the budget which makes the $100 million increase for the basic education subsidy a true increase
  • A 2 percent increase for the 14 state universities in the State System of Higher Education. Penn State, Pitt, Temple, and Lincoln universities and community colleges are flat funded
We will continue to monitor the revenue plan for the budget in the coming weeks.  PMEA joined with many other education organizations in Pennsylvania in advocating for the $100 million increase in the basic education subsidy.Thank you to those of you that added your voice to help make this happen!
Pennsylvania ESSA Plan
We continue to wait for news on Pennsylvania’s ESSA state plan. We expect to see the draft plan in August. You will have a chance to hear a preview of parts of the plan at this year’s PMEA Summer Conference. Beth Olanoff from the Pennsylvania Department of Education will join us at the conference closing session to discuss the ESSA plan. I’ll be moderating the session and plan to make sure we hear about how the arts can fit into Pennsylvania’s plan. You don’t want to miss this conversation with Beth who is truly the architect of the Pennsylvania ESSA plan!
PMEA Visits Capitol Hill
Last week, PMEA members visited Capitol Hill in Washington DC to discuss ESSA funding. The PMEA delegation met with representatives from Senators Casey and Toomey’s offices as well members of the House. We shared our concerns with the funding levels of federal Title IV funds that are designed to support a well-rounded education. Funding for this year was only $400 million. We are advocating for full funding of this program which is $1.65 billion. The difference in that funding stream works out to about $43 million less in funding coming to Pennsylvania. We will continue to work with NAfME to support this funding in the federal budget.