PA Passes Budget Level Funding Schools One Month Before Budget Deadline

On Friday May 29, 2020, Governor Wolf signed into law a budget for the 2020-21 fiscal year that begins July 1st.  A large piece of the budget is short-term and funds government operations through November.  That was done for a variety of reasons but mainly because the state won’t fully know what deficit will be in place as income has slowed with the state allowing taxes that would normally have been due April 15th to be due July 15th.

Most noteworthy to PMEA members is that the budget does fund K-12 and higher education for the entire 2020-21 school year.  This is a major victory for schools as it provides school guidance on the amount of funding they will receive from the state before their local budgets are due on June 30th.  Education funding in the budget is level funded at the 2019-20 budget year levels.  This is another major victory and one of PMEA’s legislative asks.  With the current state of the economy, the commitment from the state to education is extremely noteworthy.  Other states are already calling to cut billions of dollars from the education budgets.  For Pennsylvania to maintain education funding in current times is extraordinary.

This does not mean our advocacy work is over.  School districts will still have to make tough decisions as they determine local tax revenues and how that relates to their state and federal funding, and their reserve funds.  It is important that you monitor your school district’s budget situation over the next month.

On June 8th, during PMEA’s Virtual Advocacy Day, we will ask you to join us in thanking members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly for putting education first and providing predictability and funding to school districts as we enter the 2020-21 budget and school years.

Here are some other important budget highlights:

The $25 billion General Fund budget for Fiscal Year 2020-21 allows the state to provide immediate funding for necessary programs in Pennsylvania while allowing time for the state to assess and manage the fiscal impact of the COVID-19 pandemic over the course of the next year. PMEA applauds the General Assembly for their work to pass this budget which provides much needed assurances to school districts so they can plan for the 2020-21 school year.

The General Assembly also took action on budget-related bills amending the Fiscal and School codes, which are the companion bills to the budget that explain how budget monies are to be spent.

The basic education subsidy is funded at $6.74 billion and the special education subsidy at $1.186 billion. The Ready to Learn Block Grant remains at $268 million, career and technical education at $99 million, and $5.5 million for career and technical education grants.

Click here to see the district-by-district subsidies provided by PSBA for basic and special education and estimated Ready to Learn Block Grant, and School Safety and Security eligibility amounts

On note of interest to school districts is language authorizing transfer of up to $300 million in federal funding from the CARES Act to the state Property Tax Relief Fund (under Act 1 of 2006), which is normally funded by state gaming revenues, enabling the state to restore up to $621 million to provide property tax relief to homestead and farmstead properties.

With state gaming revenues down due to the pandemic, the certification was revised in May at just $400 million, significantly less than had previously certified in April. A reduction in available gaming revenues for homestead/farmstead property tax credits would have decreased the amount of those credits and resulted in increased property tax bills for millions of Pennsylvania homeowners. By using federal funds to supplement the Property Tax Relief Fund, this unintended consequence of the pandemic can be avoided.
Minimum number of school days — Provides that beginning with the 2020-21 school year, the 180-day minimum required number of school days shall apply even during a disaster declaration issued by the governor.
School Health and Safety Grants: The budget provides a significant boost to schools for school safety and mental health initiatives. A combined $215 million is allocated for the grants under different bills, with the bulk of the funding coming from the $2.6 billion that Pennsylvania received under the federal CARES Act.

The School Code bill, allows the School Safety and Security Committee to provide for 2020-21 COVID-19 Disaster Emergency School Health and Safety Grants.  The funding provided to school districts can be used for:

  • Purchasing of cleaning and sanitizing products that meet Center for Disease Control (CDC) or Department of Health criteria;
  • Training and professional development of staff on sanitation and minimizing the spread of infectious disease;
  • Purchase of equipment, including personal protective equipment, thermometers, infrared cameras and other necessary items;
  • Modification of existing areas to effectuate appropriate social distancing to ensure the health and safety of students and staff;
  • Providing mental health services and supports, including trauma-informed education programs for students impacted by the COVID-19 disaster declaration;
  • Purchasing education technology for distance learning to ensure the continuity of education; and,
  • Other health and safety programs, items or services necessary to address the COVID-19 disaster emergency.

The committee must allocate grants to each school entity that applies on or before July 15, 2020. Each school district will receive a minimum of $120,000 and each intermediate unit, career and technical center, charter school, regional charter school and cyber charter school receives $90,000. Any funds remaining after these minimum distributions will be distributed to school districts pro rata based on the districts’ 2018-19 average daily membership. The bill also outlines provisions concerning applications and audit and monitoring and stipulates that these grants need not be included when school districts calculate the amount to be paid to charter schools.

House Bill 1210 also provides $7.5 million for grants to be targeted to nonpublic schools by allowing intermediate units to make applications to the School Safety and Security Committee on behalf of nonpublic schools within the IU. The committee must allocate grants to IUs on behalf of nonpublic schools that make applications for grants by August 1, 2020. Each grant will be limited to no more than $10,000. In addition, House Bill 1210 provides $7.5 million in grants to be distributed from the School Safety and Security Fund by the School Safety and Security Committee for programs to reduce community violence.