A hearing in PA took a hard look at the governor’s budget plan in education

March 15 – When PA Governor Josh Shapiro announced his 2024-25 budget plans for Pennsylvania, a lot of people saw the list as quite a dream. 

One of the points was providing a college education to students for $1,000 per semester in PA state schools. 

While that certainly sounds like a good idea, a lot of fiscally responsible people are wondering how on earth it will happen economically? 

Appropriations hearings have been trying to hammer out those details. 

PA Representative Jesse Topper said, “They don’t have any details for higher ed and at the end of the day, a lot of what he is proposing in this overall blueprint is simply not going to happen. However, there are ways that we can target transformational change within our institutions of higher education. So I’m hoping that even though $1,000 per student, no, that’s not going to happen and even if it did, the way that he has it constructed with under $70,000 a year household income, the kids who are actually going to state schools in that demographic, you’re talking about one and 11 We need to be targeting scholarships for high market workforce jobs. We need to be recruiting, importing talent that stays in Pennsylvania and works the jobs that we need them to. That’s what we need to look at in higher education. When I say higher education, I don’t mean a four year bachelor’s degree. I mean certification. I mean two year associate’s. I mean, whatever we need to do to get students into good family sustaining, paying jobs that our employers need in Pennsylvania, or else we will continue to see this migration to North Carolina to Florida and to all these other places. In terms of basic ed, the plan’s very simple, it’s just more money from their standpoint, $897 million for an adequate number for the next seven years. That doesn’t even touch what they want to put in the formula, which is $200 million, at least at a minimum over the next seven years. Now you’re over $1 billion dollars for seven years. That’s not even counting school infrastructure, transportation costs, this infusion of money into the mental health space. So basically, it’s unsustainable. The Senate knows it’s unsustainable. We have to get to a more realistic number, but it’s not just about the number. It’s about policy changes to transform education. This is the battle we’re having in Harrisburg. We’ve been having it for a while, but now we’re having it under the shadow of this court case and I think that is really what’s driving the numbers right now.”

Michele Jansen of NewsTalk 103.7FM pointed out, “There’s no accountability even for this money though. Okay, spend a ton more money which again, it’s a budget buster, you’re not going to be able to spend this kind of money that they’re talking about. But even if you did that, even if we had that money, where’s the accountability? How do we know our students are actually benefiting even if you do increase what you’re spending?”

Topper said, “I have told my counterparts on the other side of the aisle, and look, they don’t need me right? I’m in the minority but if they want any buy-in from me for any new dollars, every new dollar in K through 12 education must be tied to instructional costs that have proven to be good academically in schools. It’s not just going to continue going down this black hole or I won’t support it. We actually have to tie it to the science of reading to literacy first in math. We actually have to tie it to the pedagogy that has worked and it’s proven to work for many, many years and that we’ve gotten away from. It’s not just simply going to go into a black hole. You have to have accountability for every single dollar that goes into public education, or else we’re failing our students. I mean, yes, of course we’re failing our taxpayers, we’re failing the overall state government system, but at the end of the day, we’re failing our students and that’s what can’t happen.”

Jansen suggested, “Remind folks what we’re talking about when we say about this extra money and what the court case was, so that people can follow a little closely why we’re just talking about all this ooga booga bucks.” 

Topper explained, “So when we say the adequacy number, the court ruled that how we fund schools in Pennsylvania is unconstitutional, but they didn’t say anything, the court, about a number or about why it was unconstitutional, but the plaintiffs in the case have said that there are certain schools around the state that have been chronically underfunded. That $897 million only goes to those school districts over the next seven years to bring them up to what they call a level adequacy number. So that’s not even going to all the schools in the Commonwealth and it’s not being run through the basic education formula. That’s what’s so dangerous about that particular number in that particular way. You’re going to have school districts that are going to look around and say, wait a minute, you just infused all this money in education, and we don’t have any? So it’s problematic on every level and it’s only taking what the plaintiff said in the case. Yes, the plaintiffs won in Commonwealth Court, but not everything they said was taken by the judge and said this is correct. So that’s what we’re battling out in the legislature is how to sift through that. It’s going to be the lynchpin and the centerpiece of this budget. We all know that and we’ll see how it goes over the next couple months.”